FARGO, N.D. | A dominant health system in the Dakotas that bills itself as one of the largest health organizations in the country said Thursday it is making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all its employees, citing the spread of more contagious variants.
Sanford Health is requiring all workers to get shots by Nov. 1. More than 90% of clinicians and 70% of nurses in the organization are already fully vaccinated, system officials said.
“This is the right thing to do for our patients and residents, people and communities,” said Bill Gassen, Sanford president and CEO. “As more contagious COVID-19 variants continue to spread and threaten our communities, we must do everything we can to protect each other and our loved ones.”
The American Hospital Association on Wednesday announced its support of hospitals and health systems that implement mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for health care workers.
Sanford has 46 hospitals, 1,500 physicians and more than 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care locations in 26 states and 10 countries. It is based in Sioux Falls and has major medical centers in Fargo and Bismarck and Bemidji, Minnesota.
Sanford employees are already required to have several other vaccines, including annual flu shots. As with all vaccines, the hospital will allow certain exemptions for medical or religious reasons when it comes to the coronavirus shot.
“Nearly all new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated people, and the overwhelming data confirms that the vaccines are not only safe, but the best and most reliable way to prevent transmission of the virus," said Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, Sanford's chief physician.
North Dakota’s virus immunization rates are among the lowest in the country; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that less than 40% of the state is fully vaccinated. Reproductive health doctors from around the state held a virtual town hall Wednesday in an effort to clear up misinformation about the effects of COVID-19 vaccines on fertility and pregnancy.
More than 53% of people in Minnesota and 46% of people in South Dakota are fully vaccinated, the CDC reports.