Valley Health — parent company of Winchester Medical Center, Shenandoah Memorial Hospital and Warren Memorial Hospital — announced Monday that it will require all of its employees, providers and contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning Nov. 1.
For all new employees joining the health system, the requirement takes effect immediately, a Valley Health news release says. New employees must either provide evidence of the COVID vaccination or become fully vaccinated two weeks before beginning work.
Team members who remain unvaccinated beyond their assigned deadline and don’t have an approved exemption will face suspension or termination.
Valley Health’s medical staff members and employees who are managers or above must provide evidence of prior completion of the vaccination series or receive their first dose by Aug. 16, according to Valley Health.
All other unvaccinated staff members have until Oct. 1 to receive their first dose and until Nov. 1 to complete the series. Free vaccines are provided at locations throughout Valley Health as well as area pharmacies and local Health Department vaccination sites.
Valley Health has 6,300 employees and affiliated physicians across its network of six hospitals and medical office partners.
The vaccination rate among employees is 65% and climbing, a spokesperson confirmed on Monday. The COVID-19 vaccine has been added to a list of other vaccines that are also required for Valley Health employees. Proof of vaccination for is also required for measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis as well as screening for tuberculosis.
The move comes as the larger medical community becomes more certain of the vaccine’s long-term safety and effectiveness, says Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz.
“With a growing body of evidence demonstrating how safe and effective the vaccines are, we believe requiring our staff to take this step to stop the spread of the virus is the most responsible course of action,” Nantz says in the release. “Every patient, every community member, and every employee must know that safety is our top priority, and when visiting any Valley Health facility they should feel confident we have done all we can to keep them safe."
Staff who are unable to receive the vaccine for medical or religious reasons may apply for an exemption, which Valley Health officials say will be carefully and confidentially evaluated.
“The science is clear,” Dr. Jeffrey Feit, Valley Health population and community health officer, says in the release. “[M]ore than 3.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide.
“The vaccines have proven to be very safe and highly effective in preventing hospitalizations, death, and spread of the virus,” he continues. “The effects of COVID-19 illness are far more concerning than those of the vaccine.”
Also on Monday, the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association announced its support of vaccine requirements for health-care workers.
“When the COVID-19 vaccines were first released, the VHHA and its members strongly encouraged all Virginians, particularly hospital and health system employees, to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” a VHHA release says. “In the months since, the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be extraordinarily safe and effective and have resulted in case counts and hospitalizations declining to their lowest levels since the pandemic began."
For more information, visit valleyhealthlink.com.