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PeaceHealth will require COVID-19 vaccine for health care workers

The hospital system said nearly 80% of caregivers are already vaccinated, but said with the risk of new variants, they must do more.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — PeaceHealth will require many employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting August 31, the health system announced Tuesday. PeaceHealth said the policy will apply to all caregivers, including providers, students, contractors, vendors and volunteers. 

Employees who do not get vaccinated will face regular testing and extra mask requirements. They could also be transferred to different settings where they would not be involved in patient care.  

PeaceHealth said nearly 80% of its caregivers are already vaccinated, but the increase in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 constitutes a "public health emergency." PeaceHealth cited the risk of new variants and the threat to those unable to get vaccinated, such as children and people who are medically vulnerable, as the reason for the requirement. 

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"We believe all healthcare workers who are medically able should get a COVID-19 vaccine to keep themselves, our patients, and our communities safe," said Dr. Doug Koekkoek, PeaceHealth’s Chief Physician Executive, in a news release Tuesday. 

“It is our moral obligation to first do no harm and act for the common good. COVID-19 vaccines are proven to be the best way to protect ourselves and reduce the likelihood of harming others," said Bob K. Pelz, PeaceHealth's system medical director of Infection Prevention. 

In July, 14 people, including 10 patients and four employees, tested positive for COVID-19 at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash. Five were vaccinated. The outbreak was linked to one patient floor.

PeaceHealth is headquartered in Vancouver and has hospitals in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. 

Oregon law does not allow hospitals to require vaccination as a condition of employment. PeaceHealth did not immediately respond to questions about how it will comply with the Oregon law.

RELATED: Where could Oregon see vaccine mandates?

Kaiser Permanente announced Monday it will require COVID-19 vaccination for its employees. A spokesperson said Kaiser is working with the Oregon Health Authority and Gov. Kate Brown to implement the requirement in Oregon.

Gov. Kate Brown told KGW's Cristin Severance last week that she supports hospitals being able to decide if they want employees to be vaccinated.

A spokesman for the governor's office said in an email Monday, "Our conversations with stakeholders on this subject are continuing, including with Kaiser Permanente. In response to media questions on Friday, Governor Brown said she expected to announce a decision about vaccination and testing policies for health care workers this week."

Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) will also require employees and students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 this fall, but they can obtain an exemption as allowed under Oregon law.