UNC Health's vaccine requirement went into effect on Sept. 21, leaving tens of thousands of health workers with a choice: either get vaccinated or lose their job. Seventy workers chose the latter, resigning instead of getting vaccinated.
Additionally, about 35 candidates have declined job offers due to the policy since it was announced in July, UNC Health Director of News Alan Wolf said in an email.
Any employees who are not compliant with the vaccine mandate will be fired on Nov. 3, according to an email to employees from Wayne UNC Health Care obtained by the DTH.
Employees can apply for medical and religious exemptions to the requirement or choose to defer getting vaccinated until after a pregnancy.
Anyone who did not get vaccinated by the Sept. 21 deadline will have until Nov. 2 to get vaccinated in order to remain employed. During that interim period, employees who have not received their first dose will be placed on unpaid administrative leave.
“We take this vaccine requirement very seriously and did not approve it lightly,” Wolf said in an email. “UNC Health is grateful for the hard work and sacrifices of our more than 30,000 heroic health workers during the pandemic. We would rather avoid losing any employees.”
The rise of COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant forced health officials to consider a vaccination requirement this summer.
“We have an explosion of cases due to the delta variant,” Medical Director of UNC Hospitals’ Departments of Hospital Epidemiology David Weber said in a video on UNC Health’s website. “We want to protect our health care providers — we care about all of them — from getting sick, from transmitting diseases to their colleagues. We want to protect our patients.”
On July 22, the North Carolina Healthcare Association said it supports COVID-19 vaccination requirements for health care workers.
As of Sept. 23, 82 North Carolina hospitals have announced policies requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, NCHA Vice President of Communications and Public Relations Cynthia Charles said in an email.
UNC Health and Duke Health were some of the first health systems to issue policies requiring the vaccine after this announcement.
“Duke University Health System welcomes the N.C. Healthcare Association’s position supporting the requirement of COVID vaccinations for health care workers,” Executive Vice President of Duke University Health System Dr. William J. Fulkerson, Jr. said in a statement. "We are proud to be among the first in North Carolina to implement this condition of employment."
At Duke Health, fewer than 1 percent of Duke University Health System employees have not fulfilled the vaccination requirements, Director of Duke Health News Sarah Avery said in an email.
At Wayne UNC Health Care in Goldsboro, 39 employees have resigned because of the vaccine requirement, Executive Administrative Assistant Tammie Brown said in an email.
Brittany Minahan, a registered nurse at Wayne UNC Healthcare, said she was granted religious exemption to the vaccine after initially being denied.
She said she was told that she could remain in her position if she was tested twice a week, but still Minahan decided to resign.
“It’s my decision whether I am going to put something in my body or not,” Minahan said. ”And I should not be punished if I choose not to.”
In light of the shortage of health workers in North Carolina, a departure of employees because of the vaccine mandate could add stress to those workers who are vaccinated.
“The issue of nurse shortages and nurse burnout is real. Nurses are exhausted, they’re frustrated,” Charles said. “I think more focus should be put on the vast majority of nurses who have stepped up to get vaccinated and who are out there right now in the 18th month of the pandemic facing very full emergency departments and ICUs.”