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WNC Hospitals Mixed On COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

On the heels of  Monday’s FDA approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 and older, Pardee UNC Health Care  in Hendersonville updated its policy,  announcing  all employees will be required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.  A statement by Pardee says the new mandate gives employees until November 12 to comply or submit their request for a medical or religious exemption.   Previously, the hospital encouraged, but didn’t mandate the vaccination.

“We consulted with our clinical and Medical Staff leadership, reviewed the FDA approval and factored in the growing number of cases impacting our hospital to reach the conclusion that it is in the best interest of our organization and our community to require vaccines for all employees,” said James M. Kirby, II, president and CEO of Pardee UNC Health Care. Kirby goes on to note that today’s decision by the Food and Drug Administration is a significant milestone in the fight against COVID-19 and hopes that the decision will instill confidence in the community regarding vaccine safety.

Western North Carolina’s largest health system, Mission Health, based in Asheville says it is not changing its policy.  A statement from Mission spokesperson Nancy Lindell  says  the hospital system will continue to encourage, but will not mandate the vaccine for employees.  

“We hope that the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine encourages those who were previously hesitant to decide to get the vaccine,” says Lindell. “Our infectious disease experts as well as those at the CDC are strongly encouraging vaccination as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus, but at this time our colleagues are not required to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Our hospitals follow guidance outlined by the CDC regarding protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in our facilities, including universal masking for all colleagues, patients and visitors. The safety and wellbeing of our patients and colleagues continues to be our top priority.”

On Monday, The Food and Drug Administration formally approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. The widely anticipated decision replaces the emergency use authorization granted by the agency last December.

The vaccine, developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, is the first COVID-19 vaccine to be subject to a full review by the U.S. regulator and to get an approval that puts the vaccine on par with other marketed vaccines.

The full approval could make it easier for employers, the military and universities to mandate vaccination and may reassure some people who are hesitant about the vaccine.

"While this and other vaccines have met the FDA's rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product," acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.