PHOENIX - Banner Health announced on Tuesday that more than 50,000 of its employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1 of this year, with limited exceptions.
"To protect patients, team members and the community, today Banner Health notified its employees that being vaccinated for COVID-19 will be a condition of employment. With limited exceptions, all team members have until November 1 to be fully vaccinated," read a July 20 news release in part.
The decision was made for several reseasons, including the fact that health care workers care for the community's most vulnerable residents, the Delta variant is on the rise, and flu season and COVID-19 coinciding could wreak havoc on the health care system.
"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," said Peter Fine, president and CEO for Banner Health.
The Delta variant is the cause of more than 80% of the new COVID-19 cases, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"In some parts of the country, the percentage is even higher — particularly in areas of low vaccination rates," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday.
"The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have," she continued.
Details about how employees can be exempt from vaccines will be released at a later date.
Banner Health is the largest private employer in the state.
Banner Health nurse agrees with the mandate
Banner Health employee, Kristina Chavez, agrees with the decision and says she was vaccinated last December.
She's been with the company for over 15 years.
"Clearly I'm chiming in because, yeah, finally. What took so long?" she said. She’s relieved by the mandate but says she wishes the move was made much sooner.
Currently, vaccinated team members are marked by a note on their badges.
Chavez hopes unvaccinated colleagues get their vaccine, yet she’s still concerned she could get infected but knows the vaccine keeps her from being in the ICU or dying.
Employees speak out against the mandate
"I just want to have a choice. I don't wanna be forced to get it," said nursing assistant Sujey Torres, saying it's about having the option and that she doesn't trust the vaccine just yet.
"I don't have nothing against the vaccine, people that want to get it, good for them. My family has gotten it already, I just simply don't want it," she said.
Jim Sachs has been a Banner Health employee for three years and says, "I'm resigned to the fact that this may cost me my job. I'll go on record."
He takes patients' meal orders from his home as a clerk. "Based on the fact that I never see a patient or never see my team members, there's no way I can be a danger."
He's hoping he can be an exception to the mandate. Sachs is also a cancer survivor and is concerned about how the vaccine could affect his body.
"While I love Banner, they saved my life in 2017, that's a hill I will lose my job over," he said.
Is the mandate legal? Federal COVID-19 guidance says yes
At the end of May, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated COVID-19 guidance saying employers could mandate vaccinations for employees.
Local attorney Krizia Verplancke focuses on employment law and says of the mandate, "If an employee of an employer puts forth a vaccine mandate and an employee refuses to do it, that gives the employer grounds to terminate their employment."
However, employers have to comply with certain accommodations. For example, certain religious beliefs or health conditions preventing employees from getting the vaccine.
Verplancke says she works with many local businesses that are hesitant about enacting vaccine mandates.
"So you know, it depends on the risk that the employers are wanting to take and what they see as the benefit to their employees if they do put this type of mandate in place," she said.
Banner Health has an incentive program for fully vaccinated employees. There will be drawings this month and next month with ten winners total receiving $10,000 each.
The latest on COVID-19 in Arizona
Arizona health officials reported on Tuesday 1,154 new COVID-19 cases but no new deaths.
This is the second consecutive day of more than 1,000 confirmed new cases across the state. This brings Arizona’s total number of cases since the pandemic started to 910,436. The number of deaths remains at 18,117.
In Arizona as of July 20, more than 6.7 million vaccine doses have been given. Over 3.6 million people, or 51.1% of the state’s vaccine-eligible population, have received at least one dose. Nearly 3.3. million people have been fully vaccinated.
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