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Deadline for health care workers to get vaccinated quickly approaches

University Health System walks us through how they are preparing to comply with the mandate.

SAN ANTONIO — The clock is ticking for health care workers to get the coronavirus vaccine to meet new federal requirements.

“It very simply requires all of our staff, our physicians, our volunteers, our students, people who we contract with who work inside our facilities to all be vaccinated,” said University Health Spokesperson Leni Kirkman.

Workers in the industry are facing a hard deadline. They will need to have the first dose of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19 by December 5th and be fully vaccinated by January 4th.

The White House put the rule in place earlier this month as a condition for participation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Health care facilities that do not have all their employees vaccinated by those times will no longer be able to receive payments from those programs.

“Virtually every hospital, clinic, and health system in the country participates in the CMS Medicare and Medicaid program,” Kirkman said.

A similar rule from the occupational safety and health administration (OSHA) that is on hold for judicial review allows for weekly testing of employees who do not get vaccinated, the CMS rule does not. 

All employees without exemptions for medical reasons or religious belief would need the vaccine.

“It’s not merely checking the box to say, you know, it’s against my religion and that would be sufficient," Kirkman said. "You really have to demonstrate that it is a deeply held belief.”

Kirkman said that 85% of their staff were fully vaccinated before the new rule was announced. 

She says that as good a start as they have, worker shortages in the health care industry mean that even the slightest loss of staff would be a concern.

“We need them. We absolutely need them. And so, we are encouraging everybody to get the vaccine," said Kirkman. "We have a lot more we need to do together.”