District officials said Monday they will require all health care workers to get their COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next month.
All health care workers in the city must get their first dose of either the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Sept. 30, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said in a briefing.
The requirement applies to all certified and registered health professionals, EMS providers such as paramedics, and all unlicensed health care workers, including personal care aides and patient care technicians.
“We know that health care providers have some of the most direct contact with individuals,” Dr. Nesbitt said. “What happened last year during the peak of the pandemic, health care workers themselves were succumbing to the infection because they didn’t have the opportunity for protection with the vaccine. They can also be vectors for outbreaks to occur in health care facilities where people are living, in our long-term care facilities, in our hospitals where people are for longer than 14 days.”
“This new mandate can reduce the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak in health care settings and among vulnerable populations,” she added.
Health care workers must be fully vaccinated with two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot before submitting an application for licensure, certification or registration or on the application submission date; before starting employment or a contract if not required to have a license, certification or registration; or on or before a date set by the Department of Health.
Those who opt to not get vaccinated might have an option for weekly testing through their employers. However, the District hasn’t established that requirement at the city level, Dr. Nesbitt said, although some health care providers might mandate it as an added safety measure.
Jacqueline Bowens, president and CEO of D.C. Hospital Association, said that all hospitals in June announced they were moving toward mandating vaccinations for their employees, regardless if they were health care workers or not.
“Each hospital on their own will develop what their compliance may be for those people who are not vaccinated during this period of time, and that certainly testing would be included as part of that as an option,” she said at Monday’s briefing. “So we certainly intend to be consistent with that for all of our employees.”
If a COVID-19 vaccine receives full regulatory approval, then the option to get regularly tested would not be available, Dr. Nesbitt said.
The only exemptions from the shots would be for religious or medical reasons if the Food and Drug Administration fully approves a vaccine, the health director noted, which could happen in the coming weeks.
The new requirement coincides with rising COVID-19 infections in the District, primarily driven by unvaccinated people. The case rate per 100,000 residents was 21.3 as of Aug. 11, city health data shows, more than double what it was last year at this time, said Dr. Nesbitt, describing the situation as “disheartening” since there are now vaccines available.
Forty-five District residents have died from COVID-19 since May, and none of them were vaccinated, she added. She said fully vaccinated people make up an estimated 7-day average of 9.2 new cases per 100,000 while people not fully vaccinated make up about 35.6 new cases.
Many hospitals and health care systems nationwide are currently mandating COVID-19 vaccines for their workers and already require vaccines for other diseases and viruses.
“Hospital and health system employee vaccination against COVID-19 will maintain the long-term ability of our health care system to respond to the pandemic, to safely care for patients by protecting them from infection, and to mitigate the spread of the virus within health care facilities and among clinicians, patients, and their families and friends,” said the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association in July.
The Maryland Hospital Association said in June that under a statewide consensus, health systems and hospitals in Maryland will each set a date for when COVID-29 vaccination will be a condition of employment or contract for non-employees who work at hospitals. Hospitals will allow “appropriate exemptions” for medical or religious reasons, the association said.