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Should your doctor be vaccinated? Frontline workers face calls for mandatory inoculation

About 115,000 frontline federal health care workers will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 60 medical groups issued a call for mandatory vaccinations for all health care workers. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the co-director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, helped organize the statement from those medical groups and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    New requirements for COVID vaccinations gathered momentum today, as concerns over rising cases grows.

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require shots. About 115,000 of its front-line health care workers will be required to get vaccinated within the next two months.

    There were similar moves on both coasts of the country.

    California Governor Gavin Newsom said his state will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all state employees and health care workers beginning next month. If employees don't get vaccinated, they must get tested weekly. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said municipal workers either must get vaccinated by mid-September or take weekly tests. If not, they risk losing pay.

    Both officials outlined their reasoning.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-CA:

    We're at a point in this epidemic, this pandemic, where choice, an individual's choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us, in a profound and devastating and deadly way.

  • Mayor Bill De Blasio :

    September is the pivot point of the recovery. September is when many employers are bringing back a lot of their employees. September is when school starts full strength. September is when people come back from the summer. September is when it will all happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One major labor union signaled that it may fight the changes.

    Separately, nearly 60 major medical organizations issued a call for mandatory vaccinations for all health care workers. More than 40 percent of all nursing home staff are still not fully vaccinated.

    For his part, President Biden announced today that people suffering from long-term symptoms of COVID could qualify as having a disability under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. Today is the 31st anniversary of that law. Individuals would get additional protections from discrimination in employment and housing. But they have to be assessed to qualify.

    Let's focus more now on today's news around mandatory vaccinations.

    Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel helped organize that statement from those medical groups. He's the co-director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.

    Dr. Zeke Emanuel, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    I think many people assumed that the majority or all health care workers are already vaccinated. But that is not the case, is it?

  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel:

    No, there are many health care workers that are not vaccinated, unfortunately.

    In long-term care facilities, for example, about 60 percent of the workers are vaccinated. But that means 40 percent are not vaccinated.

  • Judy WoodruffF:

    And so what is the impetus behind this move today, as we were saying, almost 60 major medical organizations saying it should be a requirement, mandatory that health care workers be vaccinated?

  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel:

    Well, our motivation is that we're health care workers. We're caring for patients. Patients come first. It's our obligation to promote their health and well-being.

    And one of the ways we do that is by taking vaccines. We take the influenza vaccine, the hepatitis vaccine. And in the midst of COVID-19, we're supposed to take the COVID vaccine to protect our patients, whether they are elderly, they're children who can't be vaccinated, or they're immunocompromised cancer patients or organ transplant patients.

    We need to help and protect them. And the best way to do that from COVID is to get vaccinated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But this pandemic obviously has been going on now for over a year-and-a-half. What has precipitated this right now?

  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel:

    Judy, to be honest, I began urging mandates of health care workers three months ago, in the middle of April.

    I think we tried — it is always better to have people do things voluntarily. We were hoping, if you got a vaccine, you made it readily available and you made it free, people would get vaccinated. But, unfortunately, in the country, only about half the country has been vaccinated. And in health care, it might be slightly higher, but it is still not 100 percent.

    And if you can't induce people to get the vaccine by all of these other mechanisms, then requiring them to fulfill their ethical obligation is something we have to move to. It's not the first resort. It's a last resort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think the response is going to be? How many health care facilities do you think are going to require their employees to do this? We saw Veterans Administration — that is a federal agency — do this today.

    That's a lot of workers. But what about the private sector?

  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel:

    First of all, some of the private sector has already mandated that their workers get vaccinated.

    I'm proud that I'm at the University of Pennsylvania, and our health system was probably the first large academic health system to actually mandate all of our employees get vaccinated.

    I think actually having all of these professional societies and groups representing doctors and nurses, physician assistants and pharmacists, long-term health care work — long-term care facility workers will give them a good reason to now mandate that their workers get vaccinated too.

    So I think you're going to see a lot more private employers, health systems, doctors, mandate that their workers get vaccinated to be able to intersect with people and keep their jobs.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what difference does it make if they are holdouts among hospital groups or others who say, we're just — we just can't do that, we're worried we may lose employees?

  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel:

    Well, what is interesting is that, when Houston Methodist required it, there was a lot of chatter on Twitter, on social media that people will quit, they will take them to court. Turns out that over 99.5 percent of the work force of 26,000 got vaccinated, and just a few people decided they didn't want a vaccine and they would rather quit.

    Similarly, there are long-term care companies that have required their workers to get vaccinated. And the vast majority, 95-plus percent, in some cases, 100 percent, have been vaccinated.

    So, I think the fear that workers are going to quit in large numbers is a fear not borne out by the cases that we have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Zeke Emanuel, where do you stand on mandating masks right now? As you know, the White House is saying that's not for us to do. That is not something we're looking at right now.

    What do you think should happen in that regard?

  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel:

    Well, I will tell you, I think this Delta variant is very transmissible. It's transmissible much earlier, and there are — people get a large — or expel a large amount of virus that can get to other people.

    I think, when you're indoors, you should definitely wear a mask even if you are vaccinated. It is a small inconvenience. If you go into a grocery store or a pharmacy for 10, 15 minutes, that is not onerous.

    Similarly, I think, if you are outdoors, but in a large crowd, I would wear a mask. It is not really inconvenient. And we should not make it more than it is. It is not like a lockdown.

    For the vast majority of us who are vaccinated, wearing a mask for a short period of time, even for an hour-and-a-half on a flight, is, I think, absolutely essential.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think it is something the federal government should be mandating in more places?

  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel:

    Well, I think the federal government has mandated it in places like airports. I think we should enforce that mandate. It is kind of lax in a lot of places I have seen.

    I think the CDC will have to issue its recommendation. I happen to agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics that masking in classrooms is a good idea, because that is an extended period of time where lots of people are going to be together in a room in close quarters.

    So I think it's very important to revise the recommendation. That will then be implemented at the state and local level.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Zeke Emanuel, we thank you very much for joining us.

  • Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel:

    Thank you, Judy. I'm quite honored to be here.

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