ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- SSM Health is now the latest hospital system in the St. Louis area setting the standard for making vaccines mandatory among employees.
All 40,000 of their employees will now be required to be fully vaccinated by the end of September.
"We know that the vaccines are safe, and we also know that they are extremely effective,” said Shephali Wulff, System Director for Infectious Diseases for SSM Health. "If we don't get vaccinated, we're not really sure how we can expect those around us in the community to trust these vaccines."
The mandate would affect about 40,000 of SSM’s employees across 23 hospitals, which is just under 15,000 employees in the St. Louis area. People with medical or religious exemptions will not be required to get the vaccine by the hospital system’s end of September deadline.
Mercy remains the only major hospital system in the St. Louis area not to mandate vaccines among its employees. A Mercy spokesperson sent the following statement to News 4:
"Currently, Mercy does not require the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment. As we have shared with our co-workers, we continue to assess the possibility of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine."
St. Luke's Hospital is requiring members of its healthcare team to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by August 13.
"What's hurting is the FDA hasn't fully approved the vaccination,” said Ruth Binger, Principal a Danna McKitrick P.C.
Binger, who specializes in employment law, represents employers with 100 million and less in sales in the St. Louis area. She says some have already reached out and expressed their consideration to make the vaccine mandatory for employees.
"Yeah got two emails today,” she said. “I don’t know any that have mandatory; however, I do think it’s changing a little bit because of the Delta variant, and now they’re thinking about whether or not they should have a mandatory policy.”
However, Binger says because there is a national shortage in workers, businesses may still hesitate to enforce it.
"Employers have to balance out, 'I need workers right now, and if I have this rule I won't get workers’, with, ‘Well, what if the Delta variant comes and then it wipes out my workforce, that will hurt my productivity too’,” said Binger. “So it's a risk reward ratio right now, and it's complicated."
St. Louis employers like Boeing, Schnucks, and Ameren say for now, they are only encouraging the vaccine.
Washington University and BJC announced all employees and trainees will be required to have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Wulff says only about 65 percent of SSM employees across their hospital system are vaccinated, and she believes very few will fall into the category of refusing to follow the new mandate.
“Our goal really is to listen to our providers who might have concerns, and there are a lot of legitimate concerns,” said Wulff. “What about adverse events, do I get time off if I have a fever. [Our] young nurses who ight be trying to get pregnant who have concerns about their safety, safety for the baby if they do get vaccinated. So there are a lot of legitimate concerns and we do what people to feel heard and have the opportunity to ask questions and talk to health care providers.”
While Binger recommends that businesses wait until COVID-19 vaccines are FDA approved to implement a vaccine mandate, she does predict that could come by the end of the summer.
“By the end of the summer, more and more companies are going to mandate vaccinations,” she said. “We’re going to see the Delta variant take over more and people are going to be more and more concerned.”