Mayo Clinic faces pressure to scrap vaccination mandate

A group of 38 Minnesota House Republican state representatives are urging Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic to drop its COVID-19 vaccination mandate as legal challenges persist around federal requirements for healthcare workers.

In a Dec. 8 letter to Mayo President and CEO Gianrico Farrugia, MD, state Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said she and other lawmakers are against Mayo's "top down, heavy-handed, all-or-none employee policy."

"We started hearing from a large number of highly concerned Mayo employees a number of weeks ago concerning this shift in internal policy," Ms. Bennett wrote. "We also heard of the onerous and daunting electronic religious exemption application process that employees felt set them up for failure and allowed for little personalization. Concern and communication from those employees only grew as medical and religious exemptions for many were denied."

The letter, which was highlighted in a Dec. 14 news release, noted that the lawmakers are not opposed to vaccinations, and neither are most Mayo employees. "However, while there certainly have been benefits shown from these mRNA vaccines in protecting against severe illness and death, there are also legitimate concerns," Ms. Bennett said.

The letter calls on Mayo to "take the lead on this issue by reverting back to its original reasonable vaccine policy which allows for medical, religious and consciousness opt outs for its employees. In addition, we would be proud to have the Mayo Clinic take leadership in giving equivalent consideration to both natural immunity and artificial immunity for COVID-19."

The letter comes as some healthcare organizations are suspending vaccination mandates amid legal proceedings over the CMS vaccination policy for eligible staff at healthcare facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs. The CMS mandate — which is expected to cover more than 17 million workers in hospitals and other healthcare settings — requires facilities to establish a policy ensuring workers are fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, with exemptions allowed based on religious beliefs or recognized medical conditions. The mandate has effectively been revived in about half of the U.S., including Minnesota, and President Joe Biden's administration is asking the Supreme Court to allow the requirements to take effect nationwide.

In late July — about three months before CMS announced details about its policy — Mayo Clinic said it would require staff to be fully vaccinated or undergo a refusal process, which includes watching education modules, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing while at work. Those who did not meet a Sept. 17 deadline were able to keep their jobs if they participated in the program.

Under its current policy, Mayo is requiring employees to be vaccinated or receive a medical or religious exemption.

"Based on data and science, we firmly believe that our full vaccination requirement is necessary to fulfill our obligation to keep our patients safe. We have a thoughtful exemption process that is ongoing, and a majority of exemptions sought have already been granted," Mayo Clinic said in a statement shared with Becker's. As of Dec. 20, 93 percent of Mayo staff across all locations had received at least one vaccine dose.

Mayo Clinic said staff who remain unvaccinated and who did not receive an exemption were not placed on unpaid leave but were warned that they must comply by getting vaccinated. To continue working at Mayo, employees must receive at least one vaccine dose by Jan. 3. Mayo said workers would then "have the appropriate number of weeks, per vaccine received, to complete their vaccination process prior to any employment impact. While Mayo Clinic does not want to lose any of its valued staff, Mayo remains firmly committed to requiring vaccination for staff to help ensure the safety of our patients, staff, visitors and communities."

In response to the lawmakers' letter, Mayo said: "Beyond the ability to require vaccination, Mayo Clinic has a moral imperative to do so. Our staff provide care to transplant patients, cancer patients, immunocompromised patients and some of the most medically vulnerable people in the world. These patients deserve the safety of vaccinated staff to care for them during a global pandemic. Mayo Clinic requires vaccination of our staff because it is the right thing to do for our patients and our community. Our vaccine requirement reflects the best available science. Our exemptions process complies with applicable law. Employees may seek exemptions from the requirement, and Mayo Clinic has already granted the majority of exemptions sought. Private employers including clinic and hospital systems have implemented vaccine requirements for years."

Discussion over the mandate comes amid a nationwide increase in COVID-19 cases. Across the U.S., daily cases have risen 21 percent over the past two weeks, with an average of 40 cases per 100,000 Americans, according to data tracked by The New York Times

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