The American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association have joined up with over 50 other health care organizations to call for mandatory vaccinations in their industry, citing rising COVID cases and their trust in the vaccine.
"Due to the recent COVID-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine," the organizations wrote in a joint statement on Monday morning.
Between them, these health care organizations represent millions of physicians, nurses and other health care workers across the country, including pediatricians, oncologists and pharmacists.
And they don't think the health care industry should be the only one to require vaccines. They also called on other industries to follow suit.
"As the health care community leads the way in requiring vaccines for our employees, we hope all other employers across the country will follow our lead and implement effective policies to encourage vaccination," the joint statement said. "The health and safety of U.S. workers, families, communities, and the nation depends on it."
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, just 58% of nursing home staff are vaccinated. According to one estimate in late May, 1 in 4 health care workers were unvaccinated in the U.S. In some places, like Florida, the rates were as low as 40%.
Nationwide, the U.S. is struggling to increase its vaccination rates past 50% of the total population, including children, and missed President Joe Biden's goal to get 70% of adults vaccinated with one shot by July Fourth. As of Monday, about three weeks later, still just 69% of adults had met that goal, while 60% of adults were fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
The influential statement has the potential to move the needle on an issue that, so far, has held up in court and proven to be effective at increasing vaccinations, at least in the health care field. Over the winter, Houston Methodist became the first hospital to require vaccines for its staff, and many hospital systems around the country have followed suit. In Houston, the hospital was sued, but won a lawsuit over the requirement and saw the vast majority of its 26,000-person staff get vaccinated, while around 150 quit or were fired for not adhering to the policy.
That decision spurred a recent statement from another massive health care organization, the American Hospital Association, to call for mandatory vaccinations in hospitals and paved the way for even more to get on board as they did on Monday.
"I think it's incredible to see these organizations come together and make the bold statement to mandate vaccinations, which we know are safe and effective," said Dr. Jay Bhatt, the former chief medical officer for the AHA and an ABC News contributor.
"We know, as Americans, it's hard for folks to agree on a lot of things. So if we're seeing big organizations agree on vaccinations, we should be paying attention to it," Bhatt said.
In defending their reasons, the groups that came out in support of vaccine mandates on Monday said it was necessary for caregivers to protect patients who might be immunocompromised or not yet eligible for a vaccine, and for their own health.
The organizations emphasized their confidence in the vaccines, which are safe and effective, and hinted at the fact that the vaccines would be fully approved by the FDA soon, which will also bring more employer mandates. Currently, the vaccine is authorized under an Emergency Use Authorization, which is a temporary approval.
"As we move towards full FDA approval of the currently available vaccines, all health care workers should get vaccinated for their own health, and to protect their colleagues, families, residents of long-term care facilities and patients. This is especially necessary to protect those who are vulnerable, including unvaccinated children and the immunocompromised," the joint statement said. "Indeed, this is why many health care and long-term care organizations already require vaccinations for influenza, hepatitis B, and pertussis."
Also on Monday, the Department of Veteran Affairs announced that it would mandate the vaccine for its doctors and nurses. The decision came after four unvaccinated employees of the department died in recent weeks. The mandate will go into place in two months.
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dennis McDonough said the mandate is "the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country."
While there is a risk of pushback that could lead to people leaving their jobs, particularly in parts of the country where there is more refusal to get the vaccine, the rising levels of the delta variant, which currently makes up 83% of all cases in the U.S., could also hit hospital workforces hard, particularly for doctors and nurses on the frontlines of the pandemic.
"Either way, there's a risk of them not being in the workforce. And I would say the cost of getting COVID is great enough that it warrants vaccination," said Bhatt.
But for those who can't be vaccinated because of medical reasons, which the groups estimated to be "a small minority of all workers," they should be evaluated individually.