Banner Health is requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 1
By Stephanie Innes | AZ Central
Phoenix-based Banner Health, which is Arizona’s largest private employer, says its entire workforce must get a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 1.
Banner is the first health system or hospital in the state to publicly announce mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for employees. There will be “limited exceptions” to the requirement, officials said. The criteria for those exceptions is still being developed, according to Banner leadership.
The nonprofit health system, which has roughly 45,000 employees in Arizona, told staff members about the vaccine requirement via an email announcement Tuesday afternoon.
Banner officials said they decided to put the mandate in place “to protect patients, team members and the community.”
Banner Health is the largest health care system in Arizona and operates in six states. The majority of its approximately 52,000 employees work in Arizona.
“The COVID-19 vaccines in use in the United States have been shown to be safe and effective,” David Weber, a board member for the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, said in a statement on behalf of the coalition.
“By requiring vaccination as a condition of employment we raise levels of vaccination for healthcare personnel, improve protection of our patients, and aid in reaching community protection. As healthcare personnel, we’re committed to these goals.”
Banner Health, which already mandates the flu vaccine for employees, implemented the COVID-19 vaccine requirements for several reasons, including the rise of the delta variant, the upcoming flu season, and an expected lift of the emergency use authorization for the vaccines in use.
Both Moderna and Pfizer have applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for full approval of their vaccines.
“We care for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and we owe it to them to take every measure possible to ensure the safest care environment,” Peter Fine, president and CEO for Banner Health, wrote in the companywide email.
“Safety is an absolute top priority and the COVID vaccine mandate reflects that commitment. The vaccine data has fully supported the safety and efficacy to prevent disease and reduce its severity. There is overwhelming evidence for us to act on behalf of the communities that rely on us to care for and protect them.”
A Banner news release notes national data that shows 97% of hospitalizations and 99% of COVID-19 deaths are occurring among people who are unvaccinated.
Banner already has an incentive program for employees who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Drawings will take place in July and August, with 10 winners total who will receive $10,000 each.
Banner has also provided its employees with pay for time away to get vaccinated, mileage reimbursement and points toward its wellness program that offers discounts on health insurance, officials said.
It is unclear how Banner employees will react to the requirement. The number of hospitals and health care systems nationwide that are mandating the COVID-19 vaccine is growing. Beckers Hospital Review has reported that among them are Yale New Haven Health in Connecticut, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and University of Chicago Medicine.
Banner Health appears to be the first in Arizona.
“I am very curious about what this will lead to,” said Jim Hammond, publisher of The Hertel Report, a newsletter and resource about the Arizona health care industry. “I can see some small companies with a very strong political leaning could use this as a way to say we’re going to go one way or another now that Banner has lifted the floodgates.”
Some hospitals and health care systems likely will follow Banner’s lead, he said. But other health care companies could end up becoming “havens” for workers who don’t want to work for a company that mandates the vaccine, he said.
“That’s what I’m afraid of — will it create a split industry where these places are all full of vaccinated people and these places are all full of unvaccinated people,” Hammond said. “The next level of fallout is, are people going to get sick in those circumstances?”
Hammond said private companies such as Banner must make their own decisions on COVID-19 vaccination policies.
“The governor is not going to do this,” he said. “Employers are going to have to make up their own mind … They have to do it themselves, and that is what Banner has done here.”