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Henry Ford Health System to require workers to get COVID-19 vaccine

Henry Ford health system
Henry Ford Health System said it was losing about 400 workers who had refused to get a COVID vaccine, but was working rapidly to replace them. (James R. Martin /

Oct. 5: 400 workers out, 1,900 exempt after Henry Ford COVID vaccine mandate
Sept. 13: Despite protests, 98% of Henry Ford Hospital workers get COVID vaccinations
Related: Vaccine mandates increase among Michigan employers. What you need to know.
July 8: Vaccinate or find another job, Trinity Health tells staff

Henry Ford Health System is the first in Michigan to announce it is requiring all 33,000 of its employees, as well as students, volunteers and contractors, to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We acknowledge the magnitude of this decision and we did not make it lightly,” said president and CEO Wright Lassiter III in a statement issued Tuesday. “As a leader and trusted voice in our communities, our patients and members depend on us to create a safe, healthy environment. We owe that same promise to our team members. Safety and infection prevention are everyone’s responsibility.”

Stories from the front

Bridge Magazine, Detroit Free Press and Michigan Radio are teaming up to report on Michigan hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. We will be sharing accounts of the challenges doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel face as they work to treat patients and save lives. If you work in a Michigan hospital, we would love to hear from you. You can contact reporters Robin Erb at Bridge, Kristen Jordan Shamus at the Free Press and Kate Wells at Michigan Radio.

To be considered vaccinated, workers must have had two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer coronavirus vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The requirement includes employees who work remotely.


The mandate will take effect Sept. 10, though the goal is for workers who plan to have the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna series to get the first shot by Aug. 10 to ensure completion by the deadline, said Dr. Dennis Cunningham, medical director of infection prevention for the health system.

Some medical and religious exemptions will be considered, Cunningham said, but are limited to people who have had severe allergic reactions to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or to ingredients in the vaccines.

"There's very few reasons to not get the vaccine," he said.

"For those who have a health condition that would make vaccination risky, they should consult with their physician," Cunningham said. "For women who are pregnant, we know from studies that the vaccine is safe and may offer some protection for their babies. But if the pregnant woman chooses to wait, she can receive the vaccine after delivery by submitting a request for medical exemption."

When it comes to religious exemptions, he said, "if you've had other types of vaccines before, you can't say that (you) have a religious objection."

Bob Riney, Henry Ford's COO and president of health care operations, said the hope is that most workers will choose to get it.

“At the end of the day, there may be some individuals that will choose not to be vaccinated, and choose to leave employment at Henry Ford Health System, but we don't anticipate that number will be very large and we certainly are going to do everything we can to mitigate it," he said.

Already, Henry Ford requires workers to get a flu shot every year and stay current with other vaccines, such as measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough. About 1% of employees now have medical or religious exemptions to getting the flu vaccine, Cunningham said.

Employees who have already had a coronavirus infection and have antibodies won't be exempt from the vaccination requirement, Cunningham said. They'll still have to get immunized to continue working at Henry Ford.

"There's some data that suggest that protection from the vaccines is longer acting than natural infection," he said. "We know that the vaccines, such as Pfizer, are pretty good against some of the variants, including the delta variant. It's not been established yet that natural immunity to COVID will also protect you against delta.

"So we're following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other professional medical societies that it's really best to get the vaccine."

The announcement comes as health systems in other states across the U.S. have also mandated vaccination as a condition of employment, while lawmakers in Montana and Arkansas have outlawed such vaccine mandates.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidelines that say employers legally can require workers to get vaccinated.

Houston Methodist was among the first hospital systems nationally to announce March 31 that it would require its employees to take COVID-19 vaccines.

The mandate was challenged in U.S. District Court, but was upheld. Judge Lynn Hughes ruled that unless workers meet legal health or religious exemptions, those who refuse vaccination “will simply need to work somewhere else.”

The Texas-based hospital system set a June 7 deadline for all employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 100% complied with the mandate, Becker's Hospital Review reported.

Last week, the Connecticut Hospital Association announced all employees of the state's 27 acute-care hospitals and other health care organizations — from nursing homes to rehabilitation centers and clinics — will require workers to get COVID-19 vaccines.

At Henry Ford, so far 68% of employees — about 23,000 workers — have already been vaccinated for COVID-19.

“We have consistently advocated for vaccination as the best path forward for all of us,” Riney said in a statement. “But for vaccinations to truly make a deep and lasting impact on this pandemic, we need everyone in this fight. There is no greater compassion we can show each other than to be vigilant about safety and preventing the spread of this devastating disease.”

In a letter obtained by the Free Press that was sent to employees, Lassiter wrote: "We know that some of you have chosen to decline or delay being vaccinated. ... We are not the first organization to do this, and we will not be the last. But we are confident that the decision is right for us, right now."

The Free Press contacted Beaumont Health, Sparrow, Spectrum Health, Ascension Michigan, McLaren Health Care, Michigan Medicine, the St. Joseph Mercy Health System and the Detroit Medical Center to ask whether they, too, would enforce similar mandates.

McLaren said it is "carefully studying the need to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all its employees." To date, about 65% of its workforce is partially or completely vaccinated.

At the DMC, nearly 70% of employees have gotten coronavirus vaccines, said spokesperson Jason Barczy. The health system is not requiring immunization of its employees.

Neither Michigan Medicine nor Beaumont are mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees at this time.

Three coronavirus vaccines have been granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Only Pfizer's can be used in adolescents 12 and older. Moderna's and J&J's have been granted emergency authorization only for use in adults 18 and older.

None of the vaccines have gotten full approval from the FDA, though both Pfizer and Moderna have submitted applications seeking that approval.

All three vaccines are considered safe and effective in preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19, however there have been some concerns.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee met last week to review reports of heart complications among teens and young adults after they were immunized with either a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices acknowledged there likely is an association with myocarditis and pericarditis among 12- to 39-year-olds following vaccination. Cases have been reported at a rate of 12.6 per million people within 21 days after a second dose of the vaccine, though some cases have also been reported after the first dose as well.

The complication is more likely to occur in boys and young men, and the condition is most likely to appear within the first five days after vaccination. Most who developed the heart complication post-vaccination have made full recoveries.

In addition, the J&J vaccine has been associated with blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets, known as thrombosis-thrombocytopenia syndrome.

However the benefits of all three of the vaccines in stopping hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 were found to outweigh the risk of blood clots or heart complications.

Cunningham said the science proves the vaccines are safe.

"We also know that the hospitalization and death from COVID is preventable by vaccination,” he said. “These days, most people being hospitalized or dying from COVID are the unvaccinated. This is tragic and completely preventable."

Since the pandemic began, more than 894,000 Michiganders have had confirmed cases of the virus and more than 19,700 have died, state data show.

Contact Kristen Shamus: Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.

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