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Statement on COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates for Staff in the HCH Community

August 10, 2021

COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise, driven primarily by the highly transmissible Delta virus variant. In response to low vaccination rates among staff working in health care settings, 60 major national health care organizations have called for vaccine mandates. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense announced mandatory vaccines for all of their personnel, in line with a growing list of hospital systems, states (California, Maryland, New York), and local jurisdictions (Denver and New York City).

In May, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance expressly confirming the legality of employer mandates (while also allowing exceptions), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services later clarified that employer requirements to disclose vaccination status are not a violation of HIPAA privacy laws.

As the Health Care for the Homeless community considers whether and how to mandate vaccines for its staff, we ask each program to consider several factors:

  • Immunizations are a standard best practice and health care providers have an obligation to deliver high-quality care in an environment where patients feel safe.
  • People experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission and illness, are likely to have lower vaccination rates than the general public given traditional barriers to care (in spite of valiant and ongoing outreach efforts), and are more likely to have adverse health effects from COVID-19 (such as hospitalization and death).
  • As regulated health care entities, HCH programs have existing policies on staff immunizations (flu, TB, etc.) that appropriately accommodate exemptions.
  • Staff are a central, valued asset for the HCH community, and attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccines are widely varied; hence, a vaccine mandate may pose challenges for retention/recruitment.
  • Accommodating unvaccinated staff (such as frequent testing, social distancing, and other restrictions) is cumbersome and costly to achieve within health center operations or other health care service settings.

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council believes COVID-19 vaccines are critical to overcoming this pandemic. We endorse the many organizations who have chosen to require their staff to receive the vaccine, and we strongly encourage all staff (as well as clients) to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their coworkers, their patients, their family, and their community.

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