Baylor Scott & White, Ascension Seton requiring their workforces to get vaccinated

Texas Coronavirus Vaccine

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two major hospital systems in Central Texas will require their entire workforces to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at various times this fall.

By Oct. 1, people who work in Baylor Scott & White Health facilities have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the company said Wednesday.

A company spokesperson said “all Baylor Scott & White Health employees, providers, volunteers, vendors, students and contract staff” must have both courses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one Johnson & Johnson shot unless granted an exemption.

“With rapidly rising COVID-19 case counts due to the highly contagious delta variant and the start of the flu season fast approaching,” a company statement said, in part, “we believe now is the right time to take the next step in achieving a fully vaccinated workforce.”

“The delta variant is the most contagious and dangerous strain we have seen to date, leading to exponentially increasing rates of severe illness and hospitalization,” the company said. “The overwhelming majority of these cases are among the unvaccinated. We are committed to making the communities we serve healthier. Whether you are a patient, family member or employee, you can be assured that we have taken every measure to protect you.”

KXAN obtained an email from Ascension Seton that says it will require all employees to get vaccinated by Nov. 12. The email said the company “conducted a thorough moral and ethical analysis as part of the decision-making process.”

“It has been worse than the first time it started, to be honest,” said one local emergency room nurse, who wished to remain anonymous to protect her job.

She said at one point, they would admit two COVID-19 patients a day. Less than two weeks ago, she admitted 18 in one 12-hour shift — more than one every hour.

“The other day, I worked — there was a 19-year-old. She’s 19, no health problems, could barely breathe,” the nurse recalled.

She said a greater percentage of COVID-19-positive patients are showing more severe symptoms than the previous surge, and all patients she’s treated have been unvaccinated.

That frustrates her as well as colleagues who refuse to get their shots.

“To see them still be against the vaccine when they also can see that it’s the unvaccinated that are becoming very sick and that this wave is making people even more sick, it’s hard,” she said.

She works at one of the hospital systems that have announced a vaccine mandate — something she agrees with but has heard mixed reaction on from her coworkers.

“I would say it’s about 75% of us are for and about 25% against,” she said.

St. David’s HealthCare, on the other hand, isn’t requiring its workers to take the COVID-19 vaccine but is “strongly encouraging” it.

“We do believe that all health care workers should be vaccinated,” said Cindy Zolnierek, RN, Texas Nurses Association CEO.

The group believes all hospitals should enact a COVID-19 vaccine policy, releasing a letter this week with a form signed by more than 50 other medical groups.

Zolnierek says she shares the anonymous nurse’s experiences seeing COVID-19 patients increase at local hospitals.

“It hits us hard, and they decompensate very quickly. So, indeed, these people are, are sicker, and I’ve seen 97 to 99% of those hospitalized are unvaccinated,” Zolnierek said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the rolling average of new hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County sits at 42 with 60 new admissions reported Tuesday. If the rolling average moves above 50, that would be grounds for health officials to elevate the area to Stage 5 COVID-19 risk levels. Currently, the area is in Stage 4 due to the delta variant rapidly spreading in the community.

The most recent positivity rate for the area is 13.7%, and 375 new coronavirus cases were reported Tuesday. Wednesday’s numbers will be reported by 5 p.m.

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