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Methodist Health System is requiring all workforce to get COVID vaccine

Baylor Scott & White Health is also mandating the vaccine for all employees, providers and volunteers

DALLAS — Methodist Health System says all of its workforces must get vaccinated against COVID by Oct. 1, according to a news release Thursday.

The move comes a day after Baylor Scott & White Health announced it will also be mandating that all employees, providers and volunteers get the COVID-19 vaccine by the same date.

The requirement will cover the remainder of employees, including on-campus and remote workers, physicians on staff, volunteers, vendors, students and contract staff.

The first vaccines in North Texas were offered by Methodist in December. Most of the workforce took advantage of the opportunity, Methodist said in the news release.

Once Methodist attains its goal, all full-time employees will receive a $500 bonus. Part-time employees will get $250, the news release said.

In an email to approximately 10,000 employees and medical, Methodist senior executives explained the decision: “The highly contagious Delta variant is causing another spike in the number of COVID-19 infections in North Texas. We believe the best way to keep our hospitals and communities safe is to achieve a fully vaccinated workforce.”

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As with the mandated flu vaccine, exemptions will be made on medical or religious grounds and employees can apply for an exemption, the medical group said.

The vaccine requirements come after Dallas County returned to the orange or "extreme caution" section of its COVID-19 risk level color-coded chart late Friday night, in part due to the ongoing spread of the Delta variant in the area.

"With rapidly rising COVID-19 case counts due to the highly contagious Delta variant and the start of the flu season fast approaching, we believe now is the right time to take the next step in achieving a fully vaccinated workforce," Baylor Scott & White said in a press release Wednesday.

Baylor Scott & White is not the first hospital in Texas to require COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees. On April 1, 2021, Houston Methodist Hospital announced a policy requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by June 7, 2021.

"The Delta variant is the most contagious and dangerous strain we have seen to date, leading to exponentially increasing rates of severe illness and hospitalization," the Baylor Scott & White statement said. "The overwhelming majority of these cases are among the unvaccinated."

Dr. Mark Casanova is with the Dallas County Medical Society and works at Baylor Scott & White Health. He said doctors "should be setting an example."

"The time was right for Baylor Scott & White to make this move, and I suspect others are likely to follow suit soon," Casanova said, adding that the quickest ticket back to normal is with mass vaccination.

Rogge Dunn, an employment and business attorney in Dallas, has been following the case.

"Houston Methodist required vaccinations a couple of months ago. Some employees quit, rather than take it, and others filed a mass action lawsuit. And they lost the lawsuit," he said. 

Dunn said Texas companies have the right to require vaccinations. 

He also said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a regulation that requires employers to make a safe workplace.

"If the employer isn't requiring mandatory vaccinations, they better be observing social distancing, requiring masks, plastic dividers and those types of things, because if they don't, and one employee picks up the phone and calls OSHA, OSHA can be out there investigating and fining that employer," Dunn said.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas said Monday it was strongly encouraging the vaccine, but would not mandate it.

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first major federal agency to require health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccines.

After the CDC announcing updated mask mandate guidelines Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott's Press Secretary released a statement that said in part:

"Vaccines are the most effective defense against contracting COVID and becoming seriously ill, and we continue to urge all eligible Texans to get the vaccine. The COVID vaccine will always remain voluntary and never forced in Texas.”