As COVID cases rise, will Midlands hospitals require vaccines for workers?

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 7:19 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The state of South Carolina is experiencing a more than 400% increase in COVID-19 cases in just the last month, since the week before the Fourth of July, and in the past two weeks, hospitalizations have more than doubled.

But not all the employees taking care of those hospitalized patients, most of whom are unvaccinated, according to DHEC, are required by their employers to be vaccinated themselves.

Three hospital systems in South Carolina currently mandate staff vaccinations: MUSC in Charleston, Tidelands Health in the Myrtle Beach area, and the state’s VA hospitals, including Columbia’s William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center.

The last of those follows a vaccine mandate announced Monday across the entire Department of Veterans Affairs for its frontline healthcare workers.

The president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, Frank Knapp, said he is hopeful this shows more momentum in vaccinations among employers.

“Both because larger employers are going to start requiring them, small businesses may be already doing that or will be more interested in doing that in the future,” Knapp said.

The South Carolina Hospital Association said it supports these hospitals’ efforts to mandate vaccinations.

In part, the association said in a statement, “As the organizations most directly impacted by a surge in COVID-19 patients, hospitals should have the authority to use every tool available to protect their facilities and our communities from this deadly virus.”

DHEC’s assistant state epidemiologist, Dr. Jane Kelly, said more South Carolinians, in general, need to get vaccinated. As of Tuesday, 44.3% of South Carolina residents were fully vaccinated, while 50.6% of them had received at least one dose.

“We are seeing a surge, not just because of the Fourth of July, we are seeing a surge because we have a low number of people vaccinated, and we need to increase that, and we’re seeing a surge because people have become relaxed. They’ve become complacent,” Kelly said.

Another Midlands hospital, Lexington Medical Center, said it is “evaluating options for the future,” regarding employee vaccinations, which are voluntary and encouraged through an incentives program.

The hospital reported 69% of its workers have received at least one dose of the vaccine at this point, and 63% are fully vaccinated. It said 487 employees have been vaccinated during its incentives campaign, just shy of the halfway mark to its goal of 1,000 employees.

Prisma Health did not provide staff vaccination numbers but said it has worked to ensure its staffers have the necessary information to decide whether to get the vaccine, which is not currently required.

The VA is now the first department in the federal government to require worker vaccinations.

The Department of Defense determines if any requirements will be in place locally at Fort Jackson. A spokesperson said COVID vaccinations remain voluntary across the entire department.

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