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WakeMed’s employee vaccine deadline has passed. Here’s how many people lost their jobs

·3 min read

All but 35 employees of WakeMed have complied with the health system’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, by either getting vaccinated or receiving a waiver for religious or health reasons.

All 35 will now lose their jobs for not complying. Most were part-time employees, according to spokeswoman Kristin Kelly.

More than 10,000 workers, or 99.7%, complied with the policy, Kelly said. She would not say how many of them had been vaccinated and how many received a waiver.

All three of the Triangle’s hospital systems have now completed a months-long effort to either get their workers vaccinated or ensure they have approved reasons for not getting a vaccine against COVID-19.

At a time when resistance to vaccine mandates remains an issue across the country, WakeMed, Duke Health and UNC Health all reported greater than 99% compliance with their policies.

At UNC, about 55 of 29,000 employees lost their jobs for not complying with the COVID-19 vaccination policy. Duke Health said it let go fewer than 20 of its 23,000 employees for non-compliance.

Hospital and health care workers were among the first groups to have access to COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020, and many eagerly got their shots.

But by mid-summer, vaccination rates among health system employees had plateaued at about 70%. With the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus beginning to fuel a resurgence of the disease, hospital leaders across the state decided to make vaccination a condition of employment, just as it is for the annual flu vaccine.

All three hospital systems in the Triangle worked with their unvaccinated employees, to answer questions and try to allay their concerns. Many workers sought waivers; at UNC, more than 4% were granted waivers, mostly for religious reasons, while Duke said about 6% were exempted.

WakeMed announced its vaccine mandate a month later than Duke and UNC and gave its employees until Nov. 12 to comply. A two-week probationary period for those still not in compliance ended the day after Thanksgiving.

Vaccine mandates have been contentious around the country, though mostly when imposed by the government.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Louisiana temporarily blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that health care workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after the new year. Fourteen states, including South Carolina, had sued to stop the requirement.

A federal court also halted the Biden administration’s plans to require employers with 100 or more workers to require vaccination or weekly testing for the coronavirus.

But courts have upheld the rights of private employers to require vaccinations, as hospitals have done for years with the flu.

COVID-19 is blamed for 18,740 deaths in North Carolina since the spring of 2020. Two waves of the disease, last winter and late this summer, pushed hospitals and their workers to their limits. As of Tuesday, 1,131 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, down from about 3,800 in early September.

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