Beaumont, Spectrum to require COVID-19 vaccines for workers

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health on Wednesday became the latest hospital systems in Michigan to require the COVID-19 vaccine for staff and others as cases of a new strain of the virus rise in the state.

“We have a duty to protect our patients and our staff," said Beaumont Health CEO John Fox in a statement. "The Delta variant is the most contagious form of COVID-19. It spreads much faster than the original version of the virus. We want all Beaumont team members to stay healthy. The vaccine is the only safe and effective way to truly protect against COVID-19.”

Beaumont's mandate for employees and providers practicing medicine or working at facilities across its eight-hospital system would go into effect after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration fully approves one or more of the current vaccines, which is expected early this fall, representatives said.

Beaumont Health Care Doctor John Rajiv writes a note before receiving his first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the hospital system's service center in Southfield on Dec. 15, 2020.

That could change "if the positive rate for the surrounding communities begins to spike or Beaumont experiences a fourth pandemic surge," according to the release.

Beaumont said its staffers must be fully vaccinated within six weeks of full FDA approval of any viable COVID-19 vaccine. Those who don't meet exemptions and refuse vaccination will initially be suspended, according to its announcement Wednesday.

"Those who choose not to be vaccinated will no longer be allowed to work at Beaumont," the notice read.

Grand Rapids-based Spectrum, which has 14 hospitals, 31,000 workers and some 2,573 hospital beds, said it would require COVID-19 vaccine for team members, medical staff, medical students, volunteers and contractors within eight weeks of the FDA approving the first vaccine and consider exemptions as required by law.

The health system could "decide to act more quickly if it sees a risk to team members and public health as a result of the delta variant, or subsequent variants, based on data in our local communities," officials said Wednesday.

“We must do all we can to take care of each other and our community," Spectrum Health president and CEO Tina Freese Decker said in a statement.

"Together, our actions will serve to save lives and shorten the impact of the pandemic — both clear benefits to the public good."

The decision follows Ascension, a national system that operates 15 hospitals and employs more than 20,000 in Michigan, announcing it "will require that all associates be vaccinated against COVID-19, whether or not they provide direct patient care, and whether they work in our sites of care or remotely."

Ascension said the estimated timeline for meeting the requirement will be Nov. 12.

Livonia-based Trinity Health announcing this month that all employees, contractors and others conducting business in its hospitals must be vaccinated by Sept. 21.

Trinity Health has 24,000 employees in Michigan and 117,000 in 22 states. Its Michigan facilities include five St. Joseph Mercy Health System hospitals, three Mercy Health hospitals, and two medical groups, IHA and Mercy Health Physician Partners.

Last month, Henry Ford Health System reported its workers, contractors, volunteers and students must be vaccinated by Sept. 10. The five-hospital Detroit-based system said the requirement affected about 33,000 team members.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the United States where the delta variant is fueling infection surges.

Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

Most new infections in the United States continue to be among unvaccinated people.

In Michigan, nearly 84% of those hospitalized from the virus from March 11 through May 15 were unvaccinated.

Through Tuesday, nearly 54% of Michigan residents were fully vaccinated, according to the state website.

The state on Tuesday surpassed 900,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the virus was first detected in March 2020, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Weekly case totals have been rising for three weeks.

Abigail Reeder, manager of Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital's Pharmacy, shows a COVID-19 vaccination record card at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Addressing its new vaccine policy, Spectrum officials on Wednesday cited CDC data through last week.

“We continue to see the benefits of the vaccine — both among our patients and teams. Almost all people who contract COVID-19 and need hospitalization or die from the virus are unvaccinated,” said Liam Sullivan, Spectrum's infectious disease specialist.

“The delta variant of COVID-19 is causing significant increases in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in areas across the country where vaccination rates are low. We encourage people to be vaccinated, in consultation with their physician’s advice.”

Freese Decker added: "We thoroughly reviewed the scientific evidence and interviewed and debated with experts, both internal and external, to understand the facts. After robust conversations and time spent reviewing the science behind the vaccines, we reached our conclusion.”

Fox said Beaumont’s infection control procedures "and the low local community positivity rate has enabled us to provide a safe environment. However, the new Delta variant changes the risk dynamic moving forward. This requirement is essential and continues our commitment to protecting and serving all Michiganders. Again, this reflects the reality of the new and more infectious COVID-19 variant that now presents additional risks for everyone."

The Associated Press contributed.