DENVER — Members of the State Board of Health voted to require the COVID-19 vaccine for workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities in Colorado.
The board adopted the emergency rule in a 6-1 vote during a virtual meeting Monday. The vote came after public testimony from health care providers, doctors and members of the community.
All employees, direct contractors, and support staff at 3,800 licensed health care facilities in Colorado must have received their first dose of the vaccine no later than Sept. 30. They must be fully vaccinated no later than Oct. 31, according to the newly-passed measure.
The vaccine mandate comes after a request from Gov. Jared Polis, who pushed the board to pass rules requiring vaccines for health care workers as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the state, largely due to the highly contagious delta variant.
In a letter to the board sent Aug. 17, Polis urged board members to immediately consider a vaccine mandate for all individuals “involved in health care and support staff who regularly come into contact and share spaces with vulnerable populations including patients seeking medical care in essential medical settings and in congregate senior living facilities.”
Approximately 30% of the health care workforce in these facilities and agencies remain unvaccinated, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“I would rather protect that freedom of choice than what somebody is saying. You have to get this,” said Giovanna Goldman, a nurse who showed up to protest Monday. “I should have that right, to be able to say yes or no.”
Many of the speakers who participated in the public comment portion of Monday's meeting expressed concerns about the possibility of additional staff shortages if a vaccine mandate were to be imposed. The health care system is already experiencing staffing challenges amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“I am concerned about the mandates for health care workers as it pertains to my husband” said Gretchen Samuels, whose husband is a patient in long-term care in Colorado. “I feel like they they're being shortsighted with this, that this is kind of a knee jerk response.”
But board members who voted for the measure said they have a duty to protect the most vulnerable patients.
The vaccine requirement affects the following types of health care facilities:
- Acute Treatment Units
- Ambulatory Surgical Centers
- Assisted Living Residences
- Behavioral Health Entity
- Birth Centers
- Community Mental Health Center
- Community Clinic
- Community Integrated Health Care
- Services Agency
- Dialysis Treatment Clinics
- Home Care Agencies
- Home Care Placement Agencies
- Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
- Nursing Homes
The mandate does not apply to individual health care practitioners or staff, nor does it apply to other settings where patients seek medical care including primary care offices and urgent care locations. Additionally, each facility will have the authority to establish their own criteria for medical and religious exemptions.
The board will reconvene in October to vote on permanent rules.