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Mayo clarifies COVID-19 staff vaccination policy is flexible

The hospital says the rate of staff getting shots has more than doubled.

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Mayo Clinic's "super six" employees — Madeline Weiman, left, Meera Patel, Abigail Carter, Dr. Sean Caples, Adam Skow and Dr. Casey Clements — pose for a photo after receiving their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, on Mayo Clinic's St. Marys Campus in Rochester, Minnesota. A new vaccination policy announced in late July 2021 by Mayo Clinic says that staff who declined to be vaccinated for COVID-19 were to complete education modules and "be required to wear masks and socially distance when on campus." (Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin)
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Recent weeks have seen nearly every major hospital system in Minnesota adopt an employee vaccination policy.

The list of medical centers to require COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment now includes Allina, HealthPartners, Sanford, Fairview and Essentia. For these health systems, it's get the shots, or get a new job.

But the vaccination policy announced in late July by Mayo Clinic took a middle ground. It said staff who declined to be vaccinated for COVID-19 were to complete education modules and "be required to wear masks and socially distance when on campus."

The last of these contingencies appeared to pose an unstated dilemma: To be socially distanced requires remaining 6 feet from all others. How could those responsible for patient care fulfill the duties of their jobs and still remain 2 yards from a bedside?

The mandate, it turns out, is flexible.

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"The good news is that since Mayo Clinic leaders announced the program on July 26, we have seen daily staff vaccination rates more than double," said Mayo spokesperson Ginger Plumbo, in a prelude to clarifying the new policy.

"All staff are required to adhere to COVID-19 safety measures," she continued, "such as universal masking, following protective eyewear guidelines and, when possible, social distancing. We recognize social distancing isn’t always possible."

"Staff (who opt out of vaccination) may continue to work in direct patient care roles if they adhere to safety measures and complete the declination process," Plumbo said, referencing mandatory education modules.

"However, we strongly encourage all staff, regardless of their role, to get vaccinated."

Like most health care organizations, with the rise of the delta variant Mayo has returned to universal masking in all locations. That means staff who chose declination, for the near future, anyway, will not find themselves subject to mandatory masking by themselves.

Plumbo says the social distancing required of the unvaccinated could separate those unvaccinated from the vaccinated in campus areas where staff is unmasked, "such as eating or drinking in break areas." None of this would render a Mayo nurse unable to do his or her job.

"Social distancing, when not practical for medical care activities, is not expected," Plumbo said. "What is expected is consistent use of appropriate PPE, symptom self-checking, and paying careful attention to potential risks in your environment, like patients who are unmasked or wearing their mask improperly."

Staff who do not complete vaccination or the declination process by Sept. 17 will be placed on unpaid leave, Plumbo said. All staff will learn more about these policies on Aug. 23.

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Contacted on the wave of hospitals requiring staff to become vaccinated, Minnesota Nurses Association spokesperson Shannon M. Cunningham said "we are in the process of meeting with our member leaders and those at the bedside to understand their response to these mandates."

The national teachers union recently announced it backed vaccination mandates for its members. The MNA, Cunningham says, "will keep you updated as a position is developed."

Paul John Scott is the health correspondent for NewsMD and the Forum News Service. He is a novelist and was an award winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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