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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

More hospitals and health systems nationwide are requiring their health care workforce to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Driving the news: RWJBarnabas Health in New Jersey announced a mandate on Thursday, saying supervisors and those of higher rank must get the vaccine by June 30. They will eventually require the system's 35,000 employees to do the same.

  • Philadelphia's six-hospital University of Pennsylvania Health System also extended requirements Thursday to its 44,000 employees and clinical staff.
  • In April, Houston Methodist, was one of the first hospital systems to announce a mandate, said it would require its 26,000 employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by June 7, MedPage reports.

Why it matters: Whether hospitals will require a COVID-19 vaccine in the workplace is a polarizing issue among health care workers, according to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

  • Nearly 6 in 10 said they would support their boss requiring vaccination for all employees who work with patients.
  • Most who work in hospitals (66%) and outpatient clinics (64%) say they have received a vaccine.

The state of play: Even in health care settings, vaccine mandates raise questions of ethics and workers' rights. Health care facilities have long required workers to get other vaccines, including flu shots.

  • In December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said mandating coronavirus vaccines would not violate federal disability law or civil rights statutes on discrimination as long as there are options to apply for a religious or medical exemption.
  • Still, other health systems have decided not to mandate the vaccine until a shot is approved by the FDA.

"What we’re hearing from many hospitals is that they will likely make determination of requirement of the COVID-19 vaccine for their own employees at the time the vaccines receive full approval from the FDA, which has not happened yet, but will likely happen soon," Nancy Foster, the American Hospital Association's vice president of quality and patient safety policy, tells Axios.

What to watch: Those who do require shots risk having to dismiss those who won't comply when health care staffing for many systems is tight.

  • Nearly two in three health care workers who don't plan on getting vaccinated or haven't decided said they would rather quit than get a shot, per The Post/KFF poll.

What they're saying: “As an institution grounded in the science and art of healthcare, we believe it is imperative for Penn Medicine to take the lead in requiring employee vaccinations to protect our patients and staff and to set an example to the broader community as we work together to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” University of Pennsylvania Hospital System CEO Kevin Mahoney said Wednesday in a statement.

Go deeper

May 19, 2021 - Health

Pfizer CEO: New vaccine version is coming that's easier to store in "normal refrigeration"

Photo: Axios.

Pfizer is working on a "new version" of its coronavirus vaccine that will be easier to store at higher temperatures, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told Axios during a virtual event on Wednesday.

Why it matters: One of the hardest parts of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was ensuring that vaccination centers, pharmacies, and doctor's offices would have the correct — and very cold — storage conditions.

  • "As you know, we are right now registered in mind of 70 degrees Celsius, but we could use it two weeks in in a normal freezer," adding that Pfizer already has some data suggesting the vaccine could last for a month in a normal refrigerator.
  • "That's a significant improvement because that provides tremendous flexibility" for health workers "handling this vaccine."

What they're saying: "But also we are right now working on a new version of this vaccine that will be ready-to-use vaccine, so you don't need to reconstitute it, you don't need to dilute it."

  • "And this vaccine can be stored up to six months in normal refrigeration."
  • Bourla added that he was "very confident" the achievement could be done "pretty soon."

Watch the full event here.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on young Hispanic Americans — Emergency room visits of all kinds dropped amid the pandemic — NY smart-thermometer network could predict next COVID wave.
  2. Vaccines: Vermont becomes first state to reach 80% vaccine thresholdNovavax says COVID-19 vaccine was 90% effective in Phase 3 trial — FDA clears 10 million J&J vaccine doses from contaminated Baltimore plant.
  3. Politics: U.S. to buy 500 million Pfizer doses to share with the world — State Department eases travel advisories for dozens of countries.
  4. Cities: New York City to host ticker tape parade for essential workers
  5. World: The G7's billion-dose pledge, heralded by Biden, doesn't add up — Boris Johnson extends England's COVID restrictions to curb variant spreadMoscow orders new restrictions amid surge in COVID-19 cases.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Back to normal without herd immunity.
  7. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Fauci: If 70% of Americans get vaccinated, U.S. can avoid a fall surge

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post leadership summit Thursday that if 70% of Americans get at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by July 4, the U.S. could avoid a case surge later in the year.

Why it matters: Fauci called the COVID-19 vaccine a "positive wild card" that wasn't present in the previous case upticks, but urged the U.S. to continue aggressively vaccinating its population.