Vaccine mandate worked for us

No new cases since we were inoculated

COVID CASES are once again on the rise. People are getting sick. People are scared.

Businesses, including hospitals and healthcare providers, are returning to all-too-familiar protocols to again try to slow the spread. We’re encouraging those at risk to mask back up, we’re doubling and tripling down on sanitizing measures, and continuing to beat the drum about the benefits of vaccinations.

In too many circles, there’s still a debate about vaccine requirements. There shouldn’t be.

Employers, government agencies, schools should all be mandating vaccines for everyone who is eligible, with very few exceptions.

Is it easy? No. But it shouldn’t be this hard.

With the case trajectory pointing upward, we cannot afford to get caught in the political tornado that has developed around the vaccine. Rather, we have to push past the noise and look to the clear, demonstrable benefits.

There is no scientific doubt that getting vaccinated saves lives – not just those that receive the vaccine, but those around them who are not able to get the vaccine due to medical conditions. Furthermore, there is little evidence the vaccines themselves are unsafe, as adverse effects from the vaccine have been very low. And even when rare breakthrough cases occur, it is very unlikely a vaccinated person will require hospitalization.

The vaccines are safe, the vaccines are effective. Trust the science.

And the scientists are telling us that these protections can be undone if we don’t all get vaccinated if we are able to. We are seeing an example of this now with the Delta variant.

It has been widely reported that 97 percent of recent COVID cases are attributed to the unvaccinated. The longer the virus is able to circulate, the more at risk we all become. The most at risk of severe illness are, of course, the unvaccinated. But the truth is we don’t know how unvaccinated children or others might react to future, potentially stronger variants if we allow COVID to linger another year.

So, it is critical that we do all we can to get our communities, our friends, and families vaccinated.

And that means stronger action, even in the workplace. I have always believed in leading by example. As far back as last fall, long before the COVID 19 vaccine was beginning to be distributed, the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center decided to mandate that staff get the vaccine once it was available to healthcare workers in the first phase. This was to keep both our staff and our patients as safe and healthy as possible. It was also because as a leader in providing community health, it was important for us to set an example to our patients and the communities we serve.

We communicated with our team clearly, repeatedly, honestly and directly. We allowed waivers for those who had medical or religious reasons for not getting the vaccine. But we told those who didn’t that to continue to work with our patients or at our Health Center, they needed to lead by example.

Nearly 100 percent of our staff is now vaccinated, with just a handful obtaining waivers due to medical or religious reasons. And we had very little opposition to our mandate throughout the process.

We informed our staff in November 2020 that we would be receiving the Moderna doses. By late December 2020, our staff were getting their first shots and all our eligible employees were vaccinated by the end of February

In all, we’ve had 63 positive COVID cases among our 390 employees. Since February 10, right about the time everyone was fully vaccinated, we have had no new COVID cases among our staff.

This was a tremendous outcome for our frontline workers and all of us who support them. And it tells a powerful story to our patients that everyone who works at Kennedy Community health, from their providers and clinical team through to all the staff, believe in the vaccine for themselves and for our patients.

We believe that’s part of why so many of our patients, even those who are harder to reach, are opting to get vaccinated.

In our health center sites and around the globe, our fight against COVID-19 is far from over. The fact remains, vaccines are the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID 19 and the development of future, potentially more dangerous variants. There are still many out there who have not gotten vaccinated.

Meet the Author

Stephen Kerrigan

Former candidate, Lieutenant governor
But we have to do our part. That should mean mandating the vaccine to all who are eligible.

Stephen J. Kerrigan is president and CEO of the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center in Framingham.