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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

Some Colorado Hospitals, Companies Make COVID-19 Vaccination Mandatory For Workers

COVID-19 vaccines rest on a table at a clinic in Aurora in February.
Matt Bloom
COVID-19 vaccines rest on a table at a clinic in Aurora in February.

This week, dozens of health organizations — from the American Medical Association to the American Nurses Association — said they support mandates that require health care workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The mandates are starting to trickle into Colorado.

Banner Health is giving “all” 52,000 of its “team members,” with limited exceptions, until Nov. 1 to get vaccinated as “a condition of employment,” including at its hospitals in Greeley, Fort Collins and the Eastern Plains. Banner also has facilities in Arizona, California, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming.

“We care for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and we owe it to them to take every measure possible to ensure the safest care environment,” Banner president and CEO Peter Fine told workers in an email last week.

The Department of Veterans Affairs this week became the first federal agency to implement a similar mandate aimed at front-line health workers. The VA cited concern for patients as well as the deaths of several unvaccinated employees in its decision. Doctors, nurses, dentists and others who see patients must be vaccinated in the coming eight weeks, including VA clinics in Aurora, Grand Junction and elsewhere in Colorado.

UCHealth and Denver Health are also rolling out mandates for employees, The Colorado Sun reported Wednesday.

More Coloradans may be required to get the vaccine as the Biden administration explores mandates for other federal agencies. Some private companies are requiring employees to be vaccinated as well, like United Airlines, which has a flight training center in Denver. The airline is requiring new employees to be vaccinated with possible exceptions.

New York and California have also implemented mandates for state workers. Those who refuse must get tested weekly.

Asked by KUNC if Gov. Jared Polis supports such a mandate for Colorado, his office provided a statement saying the state will continue its efforts to convince people to get vaccinated.

“The state is working very hard to educate Coloradans on how safe and effective the vaccine is,” the statement said. “We have worked to ensure the vaccine is free, convenient, and accessible to all. We also just announced a new round of incentives that we hope will increase the number of Coloradans getting the vaccine.”

About 60% percent of residents have had at least their first dose, according to the Mayo Clinic’s vaccine trackeras of deadline. But the vaccination rate for most bordering states is lower. In Wyoming, just 41% have had one dose.

Health officials say unvaccinated people account for roughly nine out of 10 coronavirus hospitalizations. That, combined with rising cases of the highly-contagious delta variant, led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to backpedal this week, telling people to return to wearing masks in most public or group settings in places where transmission is high.

Though Polis hasn’t voiced any support for mandates, Doug Farmer, the president and CEO of the Colorado Health Care Association, which represents the nursing home and assisted living industry, is open to the idea. He said he thinks his board of directors would support state mandates if they applied to all health workers.

“If it’s not targeted at one sector or another of the health care profession,” Farmer said. “If it's a philosophical statement that if you are going to be a health care professional, then you must be vaccinated for the protection of the public health, then I don't think that would be anything that our membership would be opposed to.”

He added that singling out a sector would allow workers who refuse to be vaccinated to quit and move to sectors that don’t require vaccination.

Nursing homes have been especially hard-hit throughout the pandemic. Just before vaccination efforts started, about 40% of COVID-19 deaths happened in them. Yet about 30% of nursing home workers don’t want to be vaccinated. Farmer is not sure what is at the root of their resistance to the vaccine, but has heard a few things.

“People that offer it up seem to say things like, ‘You know, I don't trust the science. It was rushed. I don't trust the government,’” he said.

Some people have had adverse reactions to the vaccine. The CDC is tracking those. The agency has concluded that severe reactions are extremely rare, the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and any associated risks outweigh the risks of going unvaccinated and getting the coronavirus. For instance, anaphylaxis — a severe allergic reaction — has occurred in two to five people per 1 million. Any bad reactions can be treated immediately by nurses or medics, health officials say.

Short of a mandate, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently issued new guidance for nursing homes and long-term care facilities. If workers are not vaccinated, they must undergo regular rapid testing. Also, if these facilities have just one case of coronavirus, visitors will be shut out.

Updated: August 2, 2021 at 12:48 PM MDT
Gov. Jared Polis announced that state workers must receive COVID-19 tests twice weekly unless they have proof they are vaccinated. The state employs roughly 31,000 workers. The plan is effective Sept. 20.
As investigative reporter for KUNC, I take tips from our audience and, well, investigate them. I strive to go beyond the obvious, to reveal new facts, to go in-depth and to bring new perspectives and personalities to light.
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