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MetroHealth Mandating COVID-19 Vaccines For Employees

A MetroHealth doctor gives an employee the COVID-19 vaccine on December 16, 2020. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]
A MetroHealth doctor gives an employee the COVID-19 vaccine on December 16, 2020. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]

Updated: 1:31 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021

MetroHealth announced Thursday it will require employees to be fully vaccinated by October 30. 

The news comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for use in the U.S. this week.

The requirement applies to all employees, including those who work remotely. It also includes vendors, contracted workers, volunteers, students and trainees.

There will be some religious exemptions and for those who can't take the vaccine for health reasons, but most employees will be mandated to take it. 

MetroHealth President Akram Boutros spoke directly to employees by video making the announcement and acknowledged that some employees may quit rather than take the shot.

“I know we may lose some employees over this decision, and I’ll be sorry to see them go,” Boutros said. “But I also expect we’ll attract some people who want to work at a place they know prioritizes patient and employee health and safety.”

“I know each of you has your reasons for not getting vaccinated to this point,” he said. “I respect your right to make the choice for yourselves," Boutros said.

He went on to respond to some of the concerns he’s heard from employees, saying the vaccine is safe and effective, especially now that the Pfizer vaccine has full FDA approval.

“If you still have concerns, please talk to your doctor,” Boutros said.

He said others prefer natural immunity, but he said that was an unsafe choice because COVID-19 has killed millions around the world.

“We have decided that if you choose to not get vaccinated and you don’t qualify for an approved exemption, you won’t be able to work at MetroHealth,” Boutros said.

University Hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic are the only two remaining hospital systems in the Cleveland area that are not requiring the vaccine for employees.  Summa Health and  Akron Children’s Hospital have already mandated employee vaccinations. 

Speaking at a City Club of Cleveland forum Thursday, leaders from both Cleveland Clinic and UH reiterated that they will not yet require vaccines for employees, despite MetroHealth's announcement. Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic said there are concerns about large numbers of staff members quitting. 

“The shortage of health care workforce has never been as pronounced as it is today,” he said. “This is really a balance that we need to strike.” 

UH is considering a vaccination mandate, but officials are also concerned about losing staff, CEO Dr. Cliff Megerian said. Officials are currently working out what the consequences for declining vaccination might be, he said. 

“One of those options, which we are talking and thinking about, is a mandate with the notion that if one is not vaccinated and is still an employee, they will have more aggressive testing on a more than once a week basis. These are the things we are looking at,” Megerian said. 

Just under 80 percent of UH’s employees are vaccinated, he said. More than 80 percent of workers are vaccinated at Cleveland Clinic, Mihaljevic said. 

Patients and staff are safe at Cleveland Clinic because of this high vaccination rate, and strict masking and other COVID-19 protocols are in place, Mihaljevic said. 

Staff at the  Cleveland VA Medical Center are also required to get the vaccine as part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' vaccine mandate.

MetroHealth has a more than 80 percent vaccination rate among hospital staff, officials have said.

Earlier this month, the Ohio Hospital Association (OHA) recommended hospitals mandate the COVID-19 vaccine in order to continue to have hospital capacity and healthy staff to treat patients. 

"Frankly, what is occurring in other states to the south of us is very alarming and concerning," said John Palmer, spokesperson for OHA. "As they're struggling with having capacity with hospital services and looking to other regions to help provide support, that's something we're very mindful of."

"If we don't start taking some action here in our state, we could be going down that road as well," Palmer said. 

Ideastream Public Media's Anna Huntsman contributed to this report.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158