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CHI Health official: Vaccine mandates likely for healthcare workers
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CHI Health official: Vaccine mandates likely for healthcare workers

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Restaurants, stores and other businesses across the country are allowing vaccinated customers into their establishments without masks  Some require customers to show proof of vaccine shots. Most are just relying on the honor system."The science is clear. If you're vaccinated, you're safe," said President Joe Biden.Some big Wall Street investment banks, like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, are summoning employees back to the office -- while also demanding proof of vaccination.Meanwhile, three states - California, New York and Louisiana - are allowing state residents to access digital records of their vaccine shots. On July 8, another state - Hawaii - will end its COVID-19 testing requirement for travelers from the U.S. mainland if they upload proof of vaccination.In New York, restaurants are getting a spike in business from people who now feel safe to go out."Yeah, it just gives like an added sense of comfort, so when you're coming into a restaurant, perhaps to grab some food, a glass of wine, you know, everyone else around you is also vaccinated," said Abby Shechtman and Phil Dawkins, visiting City Winery in New York.At least 18 Republican-led state legislatures are prohibiting the requirement or enforcement of so-called vaccine passports.But in December, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission determined it is legal for employers and states to require people get vaccinated. That's based on a legal precedent from 1905 for the smallpox shot. The Biden administration is strongly encouraging vaccination for COVID-19 - but isn't making it a national requirement.Still people are fighting back against vaccination demands. Eight students from Indiana University are suing the school over its required shots."They're being stripped of their constitutional rights to make medical treatment decisions for themselves," said the students' attorney James Bopp Jr.But technology like New York's Excelsior Pass, which provides digital proof of vaccination, may soon become the norm. Major companies and retailers, including Apple and Walmart, are planning to create new systems around the concept.

A top official at one of Nebraska's largest hospital systems said COVID-19 vaccine mandates for its employees are likely on the horizon.

Dr. Cary Ward, chief medical officer of CHI Health, said his organization, as well as most other Nebraska hospital systems, are "seriously considering" requiring their employees to get the vaccine.

"We're close to doing it," Ward said, noting that CHI Health, which owns St. Elizabeth and Nebraska Heart hospitals in Lincoln, has had ongoing discussions with major hospital systems in the state, including Nebraska Medicine and Methodist Health in Omaha and Bryan Health in Lincoln, about all announcing such a mandate at the same time.

"Ideally, we would all go together on this," Ward said.

Officials from Bryan Health could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Calls for mandatory vaccination of health care workers are growing as studies show that anywhere from one-fourth to one-third of those employees have chosen not to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Monday, representatives of more than 50 health care groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, called for mandatory vaccination of medical professionals and those who work in long-term care facilities.

In a joint statement, the groups said that with full Food and Drug Administration approval of the currently available vaccines likely coming soon, "all health care workers should get vaccinated for their own health, and to protect their colleagues, families, residents of long-term care facilities and patients. This is especially necessary to protect those who are vulnerable, including unvaccinated children and the immunocompromised."

The statement noted that many hospitals and long-term facilities already require staff to get other vaccines, such as an annual flu shot.

A number of government entities as well as some private businesses have instituted vaccine mandates. On Monday, the Veterans Administration announced it will require employees who provide direct patient care to get vaccinated, becoming the first federal agency to mandate the COVID-19 shot.

Also on Monday, both New York City and the state of California announced they would require their employees to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing.

Creighton University in Omaha earlier this year announced a vaccine mandate for students for the upcoming academic year.

Ward said there is a lot more data now showing the COVID-19 vaccines are effective and that serious side effects are extremely rare, which makes organizations feel more comfortable about requiring it.

He noted that there is "no comparison" between the small chance the COVID-19 vaccine will cause what are almost always minor side effects "and the complications of the disease."

Ward said it is "heartbreaking" to see seriously ill COVID-19 patients in the hospital who are there because they failed to get vaccinated.

He said CHI Health has not seen a huge increase in hospitalizations across its 14 Nebraska hospitals, with 32 patients currently. While that's more than double where it was a few weeks ago, it's still well below where the system was at its peak, when it had more than 200 patients.

Other hospitals are seeing big increases, however. Bryan on Monday said it had 27 COVID-19 patients at its two Lincoln hospitals, up from 20 two weeks ago. In early June, the hospital system had fewer than five.

Nebraska Medicine said its 25-person COVID-19 unit is now full again and patients are having to be moved to other areas of the hospital. In its weekly COVID-19 update provided last Wednesday, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said there were 97 active hospitalizations statewide for COVID-19, the highest number in more than two months.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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