Vaccine Mandates Are Working In California. Here’s What The Numbers Show

California in August gave the state’s health care workers an ultimatum: Get vaccinated by Sept. 30 or submit to twice-weekly COVID-19 testing.

So far, it appears to be working. Three major Sacramento-area health care systems say vaccination rates among employees are now higher than the general population.

“It’s more than good, it’s very good,” said Dr. Bradley Pollock, associate dean and Rolkin Chair of Public Health Sciences at University of California, Davis.. “Mandates, so far, seem to be the most effective thing we have to overcome the vaccine hesitancy.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom is doubling down on the approach.

The governor on Friday announced that California would add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of immunizations required for public school students. Under the new rule, students will be required to show proof of vaccination following federal approval for their age group.

Newsom said students ages 12 and over are likely to face the statewide requirement by July 1, but that local districts can continue to move at a faster pace.

“We want to get this thing done. We want to end this pandemic,” Newsom said Friday, noting that the state now has the lowest case rate in the nation.

Vaccine mandates were a major issue in the recall against the Democratic governor earlier this year. Leading Republican candidates criticized his vaccine mandates for health care workers and school staff, arguing the state should instead work to educate residents about benefits and safety.

The ultimate choice, they said, should be left up to individuals.

Newsom on Friday pointed to the success of the health care worker mandate as proof that a mandate for students will likely lead to higher vaccination rates. The hope, he said, is to avoid a surge similar to the one seen last winter.

In the Sacramento area, major health care systems now are reporting vaccination rates of more than 90% among employees.

Prior to the mandate, Kaiser Permanente said its employee vaccination rate was about 78%. As of the state deadline, 97% of its 216,000 employees and more than 23,000 physicians were compliant with the mandate, meaning they have been vaccinated or have requested medical or religious exemptions.

Kaiser Permanente issued its own vaccination mandate on Aug. 2, days before the state made the same requirement. The organization has also extended the requirement to the tens of thousands of employees who work for its contractors, vendors, and suppliers who enter their facilities each day.

At the UC Davis Health, 100% of employees are in compliance with the state vaccine policy, a spokesman said Friday.

“We are happy to report that all UC Davis Health employees are now in compliance with the state’s mandate, meaning they are vaccinated or have presented a valid exemption for medical or religious reasons,” said Liam Connolly at UC Davis.

At Sutter Health, which oversees 23 hospitals across the state, officials reported a 97% compliance rate with the state’s vaccine policy as of Sept. 30.

When those who have exemptions are removed from the calculation, Sutter officials say more than 91% of its employees and 96% of its affiliated providers are fully vaccinated, representing more than 54,000 health care professionals.

Statewide, 71% of all California adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That compares with 67% nationally as of Oct. 1.

Nursing home employees, who were also subject to the vaccination deadline, are also showing a higher rate than the state vaccination rate.

According to federal data, about 145 of California’s roughly 1,200 nursing homes — one in eight — reported that fewer than 75% of health care workers were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 19, the latest available data.

About one in four nursing homes had vaccination rates above 95% by that date.

Earlier this week, the state also expanded its vaccine mandate to in-home, hospice, disability center and senior center health care workers, but gave those employees until Nov. 30 to comply.

Part of the reason for widespread compliance so far, Pollock said, is that health care workers in general are committed to helping others and keeping patients healthy. But it’s also unlikely, he said, that workers are willing to quit their jobs over such a mandate.

“Especially for skilled health care workers, if you go through all this training to become a nurse… what are you going to do? If you quit, you’re out of your profession you spent so much time building up,” he said.


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