Healthcare associations, experts urge employers to swiftly adopt OSHA's 'commonsense' vaccination requirements

Dozens of healthcare associations and leaders are coming to the defense of Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination mandates for large businesses in a new joint statement urging employers to voluntarily support the embattled federal requirements.

Following legal challenges headed by red-leaning states, a U.S. appellate court ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to temporarily halt an emergency temporary standard that would require businesses with 100 or more employees to require COVID-19 vaccination or testing by Jan. 4.

OSHA published a statement this week saying it “remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies” but has suspended implementation and enforcement of the requirement “pending future developments in the litigation.”

In the joint statement released Thursday morning, a collection of more than 60 health organizations and over 30 health industry figures wrote that they “fully support” OSHA’s “reasonable and essential” vaccination requirements.

The group stressed that clusters of new COVID-19 cases are often linked to workplace, retail and food settings and said the U.S. needs to vaccinate roughly 80 million more Americans before the country can return to “normal.”

With vaccination rates increasing to more than 90% following the rollout of an employer vaccination mandate, large employers should move quickly to implement these requirements across their workforces, the group wrote.

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"From the first day of this pandemic, businesses have wanted to vanquish this virus,” they wrote in the joint statement. “Now is their chance to step up and show they are serious. Implementing these commonsense OSHA standards is an important step for our workers, businesses and the nation as a whole.”

Signatories of the joint statement included the American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Physicians, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the National Hispanic Medical Association.

“The available COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and the widespread use of these vaccines is the best way to keep COVID-19 from spreading within workplaces. The more workers who get vaccinated, the closer we are to slowing the spread of the virus and creating a safer environment for everyone,” AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, M.D., said in an accompanying statement. “We know that vaccine mandates work, they result in more people getting vaccinated. Now is the time for the public and private sectors to come together, listen to the science and mandate vaccination so we can defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Among the individual signatories were Eric Topol, M.D., executive vice president and professor of Scripps Research; Ashish K. Jha, M.D., dean of the Brown University School of Public Health; Tom Frieden, M.D., formerly the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Andy Slavitt, formerly the acting Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator; and Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and the organizer of the joint statement.

“Instead of wasting time in court trying to overturn these mandates, business leaders should be focused on how to protect their employees from COVID through vaccination. That’s the only way we’ll be able to return to normal and stabilize our economy,” Emanuel said in an accompanying statement. “We’ve seen over and over that employer vaccine mandates work to raise vaccination rates, and they don’t cause workforce shortages. It’s time for the business community to step up and show the leadership our nation needs now.”

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While the stalled OSHA mandate cited in the joint statement applies to employers across every sector, the healthcare industry has also found it hard to encourage uptake across its own workforce.

A CDC analysis published Thursday in the American Journal of Infection Control suggests healthcare worker vaccination rates slowed substantially over the summer, reaching just 70% as of the study’s Sept. 15 cutoff.

They found that vaccination coverage was greatest among personnel working at children’s hospitals (77%) and among those working in facilities located in metropolitan counties (71%). The researchers also spotted a sharp jump in vaccination from August to September, which they said was likely a response to delta variant concerns or the early rollouts of vaccination mandates in some jurisdictions.

“The findings from this analysis suggest that vaccine mandates as well as investment in additional educational and promotional activities could help increase vaccine coverage among [healthcare personnel] to better protect public health,” Ann Marie Pettis, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, said of the study results in a statement.

However, CMS emergency regulation that requires healthcare facilities to mandate vaccination as a condition of participation in Medicare and Medicaid is also facing resistance from states. In a pair of recent lawsuits, 22 state attorneys general argued that the requirement is an overreach of the agency’s authority as well as a threat to rural facilities’ ability to maintain appropriate staffing.