July 28, 2021, 4:03 p.m. News Staff — With the COVID-19 delta variant driving widespread policy changes and the nation’s pandemic recovery shifting rapidly underfoot, the Academy joined a broad coalition of medical organizations on July 26 to urge every health care and long-term care employer to require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We stand with the growing number of experts and institutions that support the requirement for universal vaccination of health workers,” the groups said in a statement.
The AAFP and its co-signatories noted in the statement that a “small minority” of the health care workforce should be exempted for medical reasons from such a mandate and added that employers should “consider any applicable state laws on a case-by-case basis.” But the larger caveat, they added, remains “the historical mistrust of health care institutions, including among many in our own health care workforce.”
“We must continue to address workers’ concerns, engage with marginalized populations and work with trusted messengers to improve vaccine acceptance,” the statement said.
The Academy’s 57 co-signatories included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association and the AMA.
“The AAFP believes that vaccination is the primary way to combat the pandemic and to avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” AAFP President Ada Stewart, M.D., of Columbia, S.C., told NPR on July 27 in an interview following up the statement.
“You know, (some) health care workers and long-term-care workers actually remain unvaccinated. And as we move forward toward (non-emergency-use) FDA approval of the currently available vaccines, it's critical that all get vaccinated for their own health, to protect their colleagues, families, patients and communities. We do not want to go back.”
Pushing toward 100% vaccination of medical workers “is especially necessary to protect those who are vulnerable, including unvaccinated children and the immunocompromised,” the joint statement said. “Indeed, this is why many health care and long-term care organizations already require vaccinations for influenza, hepatitis B and pertussis.”
Making flu shots mandatory for health care personnel “led to sustained increases in staff vaccination coverage at academic medical centers and community hospitals. The mandatory policy also appeared to encourage earlier vaccination,” researchers reported in a study published last year in the American Journal of Infection Control.
The joint statement led the COVID-19 news cycle in what would emerge as an especially eventful week. In the 72 hours since the Academy and its co-signatories issued their call to action,
Given that family physicians are entrusted with the majority of U.S. vaccinations, the statement is in line with the Academy’s COVID-19 vaccine advocacy, including efforts to combat vaccine hesitancy among patients of color. It also echoes the AAFP’s continuously updated member resources and patient guidance.
Asked in a separate interview the same day about lower vaccination rates among patients of color, Stewart spoke of her own medical practice, telling BNC, “I also talk about the fact that I have received my vaccine and how I encourage all of my patients and all of my family members to become vaccinated.”