Kaiser Orders All Employees To Get COVID Vaccine As Delta Variant Spreads In California

Kaiser Permanente ordered its employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine Monday in one of the most dramatic moves yet by a healthcare organization to fight the recent surge in coronavirus infections.

The Oakland-based healthcare giant said nearly a quarter of its 240,000 employees remain unvaccinated, including 5% of its doctors.

Last week Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all healthcare workers to get vaccinated — but gave them the option of wearing masks and submitting to regular COVID testing instead.

Kaiser, however, isn’t offering similar alternatives. Kaiser senior vice president Michelle Gaskill-Hames, said the only exceptions will be for those claiming religious or medical grounds. “We want to get to a fully vaccinated workforce,” she told reporters.

She added Kaiser is working with its labor unions to implement the program, which is designed to have everyone vaccinated by Sept. 30. In the meantime, unvaccinated workers will have to submit to twice-a-week testing, starting Aug. 23.

“I anticipate that we may have some questions from our workers,” said Gaskill-Hames, who is a registered nurse. But she indicated that most employees will abide by the mandate.

“Our workers are tired — they’re disappointed that we’re having a fourth surge,” she said. “We’re starting to see our ICU’s fill up again.”

Legal experts say employers have broad authority to require vaccinations of any kind, as long as they make exceptions for religious or medical reasons. But resistance to Kaiser’s order wouldn’t be out of the question. Employees sued a Houston hospital that suspended workers for refusing to get the COVID vaccine, although the case was dismissed.

“Making vaccination mandatory is the most effective way we can protect our people, our patients and the communities we serve,” said Kaiser chairman and CEO Greg Adams in a prepared statement. “We encourage all health systems and business and industry leaders across the country to play a role in ending the pandemic by doing the same.

“Large groups of unvaccinated people are fueling the current increase in cases and 97-99% of COVID-19 hospital admissions are unvaccinated patients.”

Gaskill-Hames said some of Kaiser’s vaccinated employees have tested positive for COVID. “Unfortunately we’re having some breakthrough cases,” she said.

Vaccination mandates have become increasingly widespread in the public sector, with Newsom ordering all state workers to get their shots or wear masks. The UC and CSU systems have mandated vaccines as a condition of returning to campus this fall.

But for the most part, the private sector has been shy about mandating the coronavirus shots.


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