By Guy Page
The University of Vermont Medical Center network – the state’s largest employer – announced yesterday it will comply with a new Biden administration rule requiring health care facilities show documented vaccination for every employee and volunteer by January 4.
UVMMC said yesterday it intends to fully comply with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rule titled Omnibus COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination, published Nov. 5 in the Federal Register.
“As an academic health system, we rely on data, research and science to keep our patients healthy and save lives. We have been clear about the fact that vaccination is how we protect each other and our patients from COVID-19 and end this pandemic and we intend to comply with this policy. We are grateful to the overwhelming majority of our employees who have already been vaccinated,” UVMMC spokesperson Neal Goswami said.
Goswami emailed Vermont Daily Chronicle a link to the ruling and explained further: “As you know, there are federal regulations from OSHA and also from CMS that were released last week. I would refer you to the federal government for further questions. As the statement notes, we intend to comply with federal requirements.”
The federal rule specifically prohibits exceptions for:
- Unvaccinated employees testing weekly. “We have reviewed scientific evidence on testing and found that vaccination is a more effective infection control measure. As such, we chose not to require such testing for now but welcome comment,” the rule says.
- Natural immunity. This exception was rejected because it would have “complicated administration and likely require standards that do not now exist for reliably measuring the declining levels of antibodies over time in relation to risk of reinfection.”
Civil rights litigator Aaron Siri wrote yesterday on Substack that a Freedom of Information Act request shows that the federal government cannot reference even one case of a naturally-immune person transmitting Covid-19. “The facts about natural immunity are simple. Every single peer reviewed study has found that the naturally immune have far greater than 99% protection from having COVID-19, and this immunity does not wane. In contrast, the COVID-19 vaccine provides, at best, 95% protection and this immunity wanes rapidly,” Siri wrote.
- Visiting workers and volunteers who don’t work at a facility full-time. “We concluded that covering these persons would be readily manageable without creating major issues for compliance, enforcement, and record-keeping.” Visiting family members however are exempt.
- Allowing less than 100% vaccination compliance on Jan. 4 “would not only delay the achievement of both staff and patient safety, but encourage procrastination.”
These options are addressed in “Section F: Alternatives Considered.” In Section I:5, the rule references the 1964 Civil Rights Act and states: “Certain allergies, recognized medical conditions, or religious beliefs, observances, or practices, may provide grounds for exemption.”
UVMMC network has a Full-Time-Equivalent workforce of 12,000, including several health care facilities in upstate New York and, in Vermont, the UVMMC hospital in Burlington, Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, Porter Medical Center in Middlebury, the Visiting Nurses’ Association, and many smaller facilities.
One Chronicle reader, a known UVMMC employee who requested anonymity, wrote yesterday: “Getting ugly at uvmmc. They are saying must have first vac by 12/4. Must file exemptions. We think they will ‘grant’ with caveat that you must be remote. Not good. Also hearing that many travelers [nurses etc. who travel from hospital to hospital as needed] only came here because we still offered testing and option for non vac. They will be leaving in December. Hospital is at crisis level staffing. This will crush. Where are all the people with the signs and free food calling them heroes ???? Unreal. Can’t believe it.”
The State of Vermont is not among the states challenging the CMS order: Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and our neighbor to the east, New Hampshire.
UVMMC will not challenge the CMS ruling, although it has some history of pushing back against federal regulators. In December 2020, UVMMC President Stephen Leffler criticized the Trump administration for its intent to enforce a civil rights violation against a nurse who was required to participate in an abortion against her will.