A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Hospitals and health systems across D.C. will require all employees and clinical team members to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the District of Columbia Hospital Association.

Each provider will set its own date for when vaccination will become a condition of employment or contract engagement for non-employees who work at hospitals. DCHA says medical and religious exemptions will be determined by individual hospitals or health care systems. All hospitals will still be expected to continue infection control precautions, including wearing masks and other personal protective gear, social distancing, hand washing, and other measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“The District of Columbia’s 14 hospitals and health systems are committed to make [sic] the District’s hospitals safe for every patient, every visitor, and every staff member,” according to a DCHA press release. “As part of their commitment to that goal, participating hospitals have, through the auspices of the District of Columbia Hospital Association (DCHA), made a decision to require all employees and clinical team members to be vaccinated against COVID-19. DCHA’s Board of Directors endorses this action.”

Members of DCHA that agreed to the vaccination mandate include BridgePoint Hospital Capitol Hill, BridgePoint Hospital National Harbor, Children’s National Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, Howard University Hospital, Psychiatric Institute of Washington, Sibley Memorial Hospital, and MedStar Health. MedStar Health includes Georgetown University Hospital, National Rehabilitation Hospital, and Washington Hospital Center.

Jennifer Hirt, the spokesperson for DCHA, says she could not comment on what the policy will be for government hospitals. Government hospitals include St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric facility for individuals with serious and persistent mental illness, and United Medical Center, the only hospital located east of the Anacostia River. Hirt says DC Health and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health & Human Services were provided with advance notice of the decision to make vaccination a condition of employment.

A spokesperson for United Medical Center, Toya Carmichael, says the hospital is “fully engaged and informed about the move to make vaccines mandatory” and has signed onto the DCHA commitment. However, Carmichael clarified that vaccinations are not yet mandatory for workers and couldn’t offer a timeline for when they would be. Representatives from DC Health and the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Children’s National offered a timeline. Workers will have until Sept. 30 to be fully vaccinated. Currently more than 75 percent of workers are. “As a children’s hospital, we serve patients that range in age from newborns to young adults. Currently, the vaccine is not authorized for children under the age of 12, so this new requirement for our employees is an important and meaningful way to safeguard the health of the children whose care is entrusted to us,” says Dr. Kurt Newman, president and chief executive officer of Children’s National, in a statement.

Health care workers, including those employed at hospitals, first started to become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December. According to DCHA, roughly 70 percent of all D.C. hospital employees have been fully vaccinated. Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, employers of health care workers have opted against mandates and instead leaned on education efforts. Citing hospitals confidence in the science and safety behind the vaccines, along with first-hand experience of the devastation caused by COVID-19, hospital leaders and health systems decided to make the vaccination mandatory for workers. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says federal laws do not prevent employers from requiring their employees “physically entering the workplace” to be vaccinated, so long as they comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions. Nationwide, there has been at least one lawsuit against a hospital’s vaccine mandate.

This post has been updated to include comments from health care providers.