On Wednesday Yale New Haven Health System, which includes Greenwich Hospital, held a Zoom press conference where they talked about their new mandate that staff be vaccinated for Covid.
Dr. Tom Balcezak, the chief medical officer for the system, and Marna Borgstrom, CEO, announced the health system’s mandate that staff be vaccinated, and credited the success of vaccines with the low number of cases.
As of Wednesday there were just 11 Covid inpatients across the system (8 in New Haven; 3 in Bridgeport).
For comparison, back in April 2020 the system had at 800+ Covid patients. In December 2020 there were over 450.
Dr. Balcezak explained that vaccination rates varied by region, signaling localized outbreaks on the horizon.
Bridgeport ‘s rate is 47%; Hartford 38%; New Haven 47% and Waterbury 42%.
By contrast, in Canaan, CT more than 90% of residents are vaccinated.
Borgstrom said Connecticut compared favorably with the national experience, and that colleagues around the country were seeing some real spikes.
“A colleague in Missouri has more patients now than in the December 2020 second wave spike.”
The number of positive cases per day has doubled across the country, and is primarily impacting people who have not been vaccinated.
Connecticut’s positivity rate as of Wednesday was 1%, though it was lower a few weeks ago. Dr. Balcezak attributed that to the delta variant.
Mandatory Vaccinations for Yale New Haven Health System Staff
Dr. Balcezak said the very low Covid case count in the health system was great empirical evidence that the vaccines work, but the emerging delta variant made the for a stark choice. He said the choice was to get Covid or get the vaccine.
The health system staff vaccination rate has been hovering around a 80-81%.
“Given the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, we have made the move to make vaccines mandatory for all staff, including medical staff, contractors and anyone associated with forward facing patient care who comes into our organization.”Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief medical officer at Yale New Haven Health System
He said there will be mechanisms for possible exemption for spiritual and medical reasons, but he anticipated the number exemptions will be small.
“There are very few medical reasons not to get the vaccine,” he added.
“We may see a few deferments. People undergoing chemotherapy or are on short term Immunosuppressants. Those individuals, with doctor’s advice may delay the vaccine until their immune system is more competent and more likely to respond to the vaccine.”
If someone believes they have a strongly held spiritual belief that prevents from getting this vaccine, there will be an application that will be reviewed by multiple departments. The employee may be interviewed. Then a panel will review the application. The exemption will either be granted or not.
As part of the system’s condition of employment for employees, staff will be required to receive their first dose by Aug 31 and be fully vaccinated by September 30.
For those who decline, there will be a series of warnings, leading to suspension, and ultimately to termination.
All staff will continue to wear masks, and those who opt out for spiritual or medical reasons will be tested once a week.
Balcezak said sequencing is being done on new positive cases.
“We’re hearing (delta variant) is about 50% of all new positives,” he said, adding that he anticipated the delta variant will grow until there is an even more infectious variant.
Pfizer is asking the FDA to authorize a booster vaccine, but both Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, and the US Dept of Health and Human Services have said that at this moment Americans do not require a booster shot.
“When Dr. Fauci said ‘at this moment,’ that is the key phrase,” Balcezak said. “There is no doubt in my mind that some day we will need a booster. Whether that’s in the fall when a new variant emerges, or some time next year or the year after, we need to wait until the science shows us. Immunity will wane. The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid isn’t leaving the human population any time soon. Those facts lead us to the conclusion that we will need a booster at some point.”
He added that while there was still more to learn about Covid, he was concerned people were using that as a reason not to get vaccinated.
“What concerns me is what we’ve been seeing in some corners of the internet is people will take a true statement, take it out of context, and use it as a wholesale argument to avoid vaccination,” Balcezak said. “That is patently wrong.”
He repeated that the vaccine is incredibly effective against Covid.
“Even if you’re infected by it, your risk of serious disease is quite diminished,” he said.
Balcezak said he anticipated full FDA approval of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the next few weeks. He noted that over 300 million doses had been administered in the US so far.