Baptist Health in Jacksonville announced Tuesday it is joining a growing list of organizations that will require full vaccinations for its employees.
The hospital system announced employees will be required to be vaccinated by November 15, although exemptions will be granted for medical reasons that make a vaccine inadvisable and for sincerely held religious beliefs.
“While we respect personal choice, the aggressive rates of infection resulting from the Delta variant have made it necessary to take this step,” said Michael Mayo, president and CEO of Baptist Health, in an email to WJCT News.
New variants have contributed to a 300% increase in hospitalizations – and, among Baptist Health patients, more than 90% of those hospitalized in recent weeks have been unvaccinated.
“The evidence strongly confirms that COVID-19 vaccination reduces hospitalizations, severity of illness and deaths. In order for us to care for the community, we must remain healthy ourselves,” said Timothy Groover, the interim Chief Medical Officer at Baptist. “It is our ethical responsibility to do all we can to protect the health of our patients, team members and the communities we serve.”
Baptist Health is joining dozens of health systems mandating vaccinations. Last week the Mayo Clinic, which has a campus in Jacksonville, announced it was requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated or complete what it calls a “declination process" that includes vaccine education.
The trend of mandatory vaccinations is gaining momentum nationwide. The two largest U.S. cities, New York and Los Angeles, have both announced mandatory vaccinations for employees, while New York City is also requiring proof of vaccination for indoor activities. Meanwhile, leaders of some states including Florida are working to prevent COVID-19-related mandates.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed an executive order banning local school districts from requiring masks for students and already signed a separate one banning businesses' and schools' use of "vaccine passports," which would require customers to show proof of vaccination for service.
The number of people hospitalized in Florida because of COVID-19 is continuing to balloon at a record pace, according to the Florida Hospital Association.
The industry group said 10,389 people were hospitalized Monday for COVID-19 - the second day in a row that the number was over 10,000 and the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic.
The Baptist Health medical system has more than 12,500 employees. The health provider says it is the largest private employer in the Jacksonville area.