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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Four NC Hospital Systems Won’t Require Employees To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

Novant Health
Jodie Valade

At least four hospital systems in North Carolina will not initially require their employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19: Novant Health, Duke Health, UNC Health and Wake Forest Baptist.

“Our goal is to educate and inform our team members around the benefits and the safety of the vaccine and let them make an informed decision around whether to receive it,” Becky Bean, senior vice president and chief pharmacy officer at Novant, said on Wednesday.

Employers can make vaccines mandatory for employees, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but can also allow them to request medical or religious exemptions. Bean said she was not involved in the decision-making at Novant but that the hospital system “took awhile” to make the flu vaccine mandatory. Novant currently requires all of its doctors, volunteers and other team members to get an annual flu shot, though employees can ask for an exemption.

“Given that this is a newer vaccine, obviously we would want more time,” Bean said.

UNC Health said in a statement on Wednesday that it expects to recommend that employees get vaccinated “if the remainder of the vaccine trials are as positive as the interim reports,” but that it would not be mandatory “given the limited experience with the vaccine.”

Duke Health and Wake Forest Baptist also will not mandate COVID-19 vaccines, according to spokespeople. Wake Forest spokesperson Joe McCloskey said in an email on Wednesday that the health system “will follow a phased vaccination approach” since supply may initially be limited.

“This aligns with federal and state guidance to prioritize staff depending on the likelihood of exposure,” McCloskey wrote.

At Novant, employees who work at the hospital system’s COVID-19 screening centers, intensive care units and emergency departments will have priority, among others, Bean said.

A spokesperson for Atrium Health declined to make anyone available for an interview and did not answer an emailed question about whether the hospital system would require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

North Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccine plan prioritizes health care workers who are at high risk of being exposed to the disease. The state is expected to receive about 85,000 vaccine doses as early as Dec. 15, Dr. Mandy Cohen, the health and human services secretary, said on Tuesday.

U.S. regulators are expected to grant emergency use of a coronavirus vaccine manufactured by Pfizer this month, NPR reported. It promises up to 95% protection from COVID-19. The biotech company Moderna released new data Monday morning that strengthens the case for its COVID-19 vaccine. It concludes the vaccine is 94% effective — and strongly protects against serious illness. Moderna applied for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for the vaccine.

The FDA has said it is not cutting corners when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, NPR reported. Cohen has repeatedly said she has confidence in the vaccine approval process.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.