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Catholic health care giant Ascension to mandate coronavirus vaccines for employees

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by Kevin J. Jones

Denver Newsroom, Jul 29, 2021 / 18:29 pm

The Catholic health care network Ascension will mandate coronavirus vaccination for its employees, physicians, volunteers, and vendors. It cited a need for more action to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic and promised some exemptions to the mandate for people with health problems or religious exemptions.

“Like many health systems across the country, including in many of our markets, we are moving to require our associates to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Ascension said July 27.

“Ascension conducted a thorough moral and ethical analysis as part of the decision-making process,” it added. “As a healthcare provider and as a Catholic ministry, ensuring we have a culture of safety for our associates, patients and communities is foundational to our work.”

Tens of thousands of its employees have already been vaccinated, said Ascension, which added: “But we must do more to overcome this pandemic as we provide safe environments for those we serve.”

The mandate applies to all employees regardless of whether they provide direct patient care or whether they work remotely. It also applies to employees of subsidiaries and partners; physicians and advanced practiced providers, including those who are independent; and volunteers and vendors who enter Ascension facilities.

“Together, we will put this pandemic behind us so that we can continue to focus on meeting the needs of those who come to us for care,” Ascension said.

The health network aims to fulfil this mandate by Nov. 12, aligned with its annual influenza vaccination requirement. There will be an exemption process similar to that used for its influenza vaccine process for those unable to be vaccinated because of a medical condition or a strongly held religious belief. Ascension said it is implementing the mandate in line with collective bargaining agreements.

According to the Alabama-based NBC15 News, an email sent to Ascension employees this week said fewer than 50% of its employees in Florida and the Gulf Coast are vaccinated.

Some employees have objected that the mandate violates their medical freedom and personal choice.

According to Ascension’s website, as of 2020 it has over 160,000 associates, 40,000 aligned health care providers and 9,000 employed providers. It has more than 2,600 health care facilities in 19 states and the District of Columbia, including 145 hospitals and over 40 senior care facilities.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has addressed concerns about the use of vaccines with a remote connection to abortion. The use of these vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process is acceptable “when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available,” it said in a December 2020 note.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a March 2 statement, said that the mRNA vaccines available from Pfizer and Moderna have “the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen” and should be preferred to the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

In a July 2 statement, the National Catholic Bioethics Center discussed vaccine mandates. Any mandates should provide “robust, transparent, and readily accessible exemptions for medical, religious, and conscience reasons.” This safeguards the rights of conscience, establishes trust, and avoids “undue pressure,” the bioethics center said. Mandates can exert severe pressure if employment is threatened, and the current vaccines are approved only under an emergency use authorization.

“Recognizing the importance of public health, institutions that grant an exemption may require that recipients restrict their interpersonal interactions, but these restrictions should be the least burdensome possible,” the statement continued.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center said there is “no universal moral obligation” to accept or reject vaccines.

“Catholic institutions, in particular, should respect the decisions of people to decline use of vaccines dependent on abortion-derived cell lines,” said the center. “This is especially relevant when there are other means of mitigating risk.”

The novel coronavirus has killed over 612,000 people and hospitalized many more in the U.S. While the arrival of vaccines has significantly reduced the spread of the disease, there are concern that failures to vaccinate and the arrival of new viral variants could still cause significant harm.

A June survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, published July 27, reported that about 80% of Catholics would accept a coronavirus vaccine. Hispanic Catholics’ vaccine acceptance has particularly increased in recent months.

About 67% of Americans told the survey they had received at least one dose of the vaccine and another 4% said they aimed to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Overall, under 15% of Americans are hesitant. Concerns about possible long-term effects of vaccines appear to be decreasing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association recommend vaccine mandates for all employees in health care and long-term care, the Detroit Free Press reports. California and New York have also required government workers to vaccinate or submit to regular testing.

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a similar mandate for all civilian federal workers.

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