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Massachusetts medical leaders advise workplace vaccine mandates

Boston Herald logo Boston Herald 8/10/2021 Amy Sokolow
a person in a blue room: FILE – In this July 22, 2021 file photo, a health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Most Americans who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 say they are unlikely to get the shots and doubt they would work against the aggressive delta variant despite evidence they do, according to a new poll that underscores the challenges facing public health officials amid soaring infections in some states.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) © Provided by Boston Herald FILE – In this July 22, 2021 file photo, a health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Most Americans who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 say they are unlikely to get the shots and doubt they would work against the aggressive delta variant despite evidence they do, according to a new poll that underscores the challenges facing public health officials amid soaring infections in some states.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Business and medical leaders from some of Boston’s biggest institutions have instituted vaccine mandates for their workplaces, and think others should do the same.

“The most important thing employers can do is to encourage their workforce to get vaccinated, and I would urge as many employers as possible to mandate it,” Peter Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a roundtable hosted by the Massachusetts High Technology Council.

Slavin then relayed the story of how flu vaccination rates jumped after he instituted a mandate among MGH staff. “We were doing everything we could to educate our workforce about its importance and we got up to about 90% and then it plateaued,” he said. “When we mandated it, all but one person got vaccinated, and it was not as nearly as big a deal as we thought it might be.”

Peter Healy, president of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, agreed. “As a health care professional, and knowing what we know about how effective the vaccine is and how damaging this pandemic is,” he said, calling it “not a tough decision” to mandate it among his own staff. He recommended that vaccines be mandated “as it is with many other vaccines and has been for decades” in sectors including health care, government, schools and other public-facing industries.


Video: Mask and vaccine mandates come into question amid rising Covid cases (NBC News)

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Healy also advised employers that “masking really works” to keep disease at bay, he said. He added that Beth Israel will mandate masks everywhere starting Wednesday, instead of just in patient-facing areas, as the policy had been for the past few months.

The panel also discussed the rise of the delta variant of the virus, which is said to be as contagious as chickenpox. “There’s only one way (to stop mutations), which is to stop the pandemic with vaccines,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, an infectious disease physician and scientist in virology and immunology at Barouch Laboratory.

“The only way we will prevent the emergence of new and more worrisome variants in the United States is to vaccinate everybody in the world,” he added, explaining that many of the new variants emerged outside the country.

Barouch was hesitant to make predictions about how the delta variant will play out in the U.S. because “sometimes epidemic curves change drastically for reasons we don’t completely understand,” he said. Although the delta variant is still surging in the highly vaccinated Israel, the U.K. is seeing “a substantial decrease” in the number of delta cases.

“Is that looking into our future? We certainly hope so,” he said. “But I would say we probably shouldn’t necessarily count on that.”

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