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Healthcare

Many Say Mandating Vaccines For Health Care Workers Is Critical To Pandemic's End

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Nearly 60 medical associations and groups say they support requiring vaccines for health care workers. Among them is the American Academy of Family Physicians. Dr. Ada Stewart is the president of that group and a family physician in South Carolina, where just 44% of the state's residents are fully vaccinated. She joins us on the line now. Good morning, Dr. Stewart.

ADA STEWART: Good morning. And thank you so much for allowing me to join you.

MCCAMMON: Yeah, thanks for being here. I want to ask you, first of all, why do you think mandating vaccines for health care workers is so important at this stage of the pandemic?

STEWART: Oh, it is so important right now. Because right now we're seeing, No. 1, the highly contagious variants, including the delta variant, the significant number of unvaccinated people. We're seeing COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths once again rise throughout our country.

MCCAMMON: How do you think that these kinds of mandates should be implemented? I mean, would you like to see employers, such as hospitals and doctor's offices require their workers to have vaccines? Or should more governments, like cities and states and agencies, mandate vaccines for health care workers?

STEWART: So that is a tough question. But the AAFP believes that vaccination is the primary way to combat the pandemic and to avoid the return of stringent public health measures. And so as we look forward to how best to implement this, we realize that employers could consider and should consider any applicable state laws on a case-by-case basis. But we recognize the importance of everyone becoming vaccinated.

You know, health care workers and long-term care workers actually remain unvaccinated. And as we move forward toward FDA approval of the currently available vaccines, it's critical that all get vaccinated for their own health, to protect their colleagues, families, patients and communities. We do not want to go back.

MCCAMMON: There are some groups, including some health care worker unions, for example, that vehemently oppose mandates for their workers. They say workers have a right to choose whether or not to get vaccines and that the government shouldn't force that. How do you respond?

STEWART: Oh, it's really important that we talk about the necessity of protecting those are - who are vulnerable, including unvaccinated children and the immunocompromised. And this is why we really are stressing that health care workers, long-term workers - they need to get their vaccinations. You know, we do this already. We do this for influenza. We do this for hepatitis B. We do this for pertussis. And so it's really important that we, you know, recognize those individuals who cannot be vaccinated because of different medical reasons. And some should be exempt because of their comorbidities. But that constitute a small minority of all workers. And so it's really important that we encourage everyone - all health care workers, all health care workers who are on the front lines and long-term care workers - to get vaccinated. This is the only way that we're going to be able to protect our patients, ourselves, our families and communities.

MCCAMMON: You know it's important. I know it's important. You know, we've all seen the data. But ostensibly, health care workers have seen the data, too, and they should be in a good position to interpret it as health care workers. With so much resistance within the medical community, how can you possibly convince the average reluctant American to get vaccinated?

STEWART: We have to continue to talk about the science, continue to talk about the safety of vaccination and - of this vaccination, and also to talk about the importance of our communities and protecting their health. And so this is a conversation that we continue to have and will continue to have to try to persuade everyone that this is the primary way for us to combat this pandemic right now and avoid the return to the stringent public health measures that we had in place prior to this time.

MCCAMMON: Really quickly, in 10 seconds or so, if more people don't get vaccinated, is that where we're headed, more of those measures?

STEWART: Oh, yes, definitely.

MCCAMMON: Dr. Stewart is president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Thank you for speaking with us.

STEWART: Thank you so much for this opportunity.

(SOUNDBITE OF NYMANO FEAT. HYUME'S "BLURRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.