Why is Novant Health requiring all team members to get vaccinated for COVID-19?

To keep patients safe.

“Patients come to us at the lowest and most vulnerable times in their lives. They are sick, they are dying, they are afraid, and they are looking to us for our expertise and protection,” said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health senior vice president and chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer.

“We know the vaccine works. And nearly 4 billion doses have been given worldwide,” he said. “Vaccines are the only way we have at this time to end this pandemic and the only way to ensure that we do not give a deadly virus to those who trust us.

“As an organization, we will not waver in our commitment to preventing harm to patients, and we are taking the steps necessary to protect our communities.”

Novant Health is not alone in this decision. In North Carolina, Atrium Health, Cone Health, UNC Medical Center, Duke University Health System, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center are among health care systems requiring team members to get vaccinated.

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Dr. David Priest

In fact, more than 1,800 hospitals across the U.S. are requiring team members to get vaccinated for patient safety. Among them are several large health systems including the Mayo Clinic, Houston Methodist, and Kaiser Permanente. Several states have also mandated vaccines for health care workers including New Jersey, Maine, Pennsylvania, New York and California.

“We do not take decisions around team member vaccination lightly,” Priest said. He noted that Novant Health went through a similar process in the past when it decided to required team members to get flu vaccines in 2013. And health care systems regularly require team members to have a host of vaccines before starting work.

The deadline for team members to be vaccinated is Sept. 15, with a built-in grace period beyond that to get the second shot.

Priest explained that Novant Health teams have been carefully monitoring the vaccine rollout, the safety of the vaccine, the scientific evidence, and what is happening in the communities it serves. In the U.S. “Over 99% of those who are vaccinated have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death,” Priest said. “We also know that 96.7% of COVID deaths this summer occurred in unvaccinated individuals.”

As the Delta variant spread rapidly, Priest explained, Novant Health had to act quickly. Early in the pandemic, the typical COVID patient might infect two or three people around them. “But with the Delta variant, they're likely to infect five to nine individuals around them. We've had this incredible increase in hospitalizations, incredible increase in cases.”

And Novant Health doctors note that patients are far younger today than early in the pandemic. “Many of my colleagues who've been practicing for many decades are shocked and horrified by how the ICUs are filling with pregnant women,” said Dr. Amelia Sutton, maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Novant Health Maternal-Fetal Medicine - Charlotte. “And we're seeing that the vast majority are not vaccinated.”

Priest himself, an expert in vaccines and infectious disease, got the vaccine as soon as it was available to health care workers and encourages people who have not gotten vaccinated to seek out the facts.

“The risk of vaccine is far less than the risk of acquiring COVID and having complications related to COVID or the risk of many activities we all participate in every day,” he said. “On a personal note, my entire family is vaccinated, including my 17-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son. That is how safe I think these vaccines are.”

Top caption: Dr. David Priest receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in winter 2021.