Should health-care providers be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19?
“First, do no harm” is taught to medical school students early in their education. That ethical principle is the bedrock for the confidence patients have in their physicians.
Many patients receive their medical care from groups of physicians working as employees of health-care organizations. Under that arrangement, physicians are bound not only by the ethical principles of the medical profession but also the rules of their employers. But what if those two sets of rules are in conflict?
A case in point is vaccination against Covid-19. Because an unvaccinated physician represents a potential risk to patients, the ethical principle “First, do no harm” requires physicians to be vaccinated. One would expect their employers to adhere to that standard. But that is not always the case.
Last month I wrote to the chief medical officer of Cape Cod Healthcare asking the following questions:
Does Cape Cod Healthcare require all health-care professionals having direct patient contact to be vaccinated against Covid-19?
Does Cape Cod Healthcare require all health-care professionals to disclose whether they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 when asked by patients or family members?
Does Cape Cod Healthcare permit patients to request care only by health-care professionals who have been vaccinated against Covid-19?
After a couple of weeks, I received the following reply:
“Thank you very much for your letter of August 12th regarding infection control practices at Cape Cod Healthcare. Since the beginning of the Pandemic, Cape Cod Healthcare facilities have followed strict infection control protocols which are continuously monitored and updated based on current science and guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the US Centers for Disease Control. As a result of this vigilance, our facilities have maintained a high level of safety for both our staff and patients. As has been widely reported, the likelihood of contracting a respiratory virus while being treated in US Healthcare facilities, including CCHC, is substantially lower than in the general community.”
This response suggests that “No” is the answer to all of the questions I asked. That is, Cape Cod Healthcare does not require doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Furthermore, the organization’s statement says nothing about plans to implement such a policy.
In contrast, the following health-care systems will require all clinicians and staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by next month: Baystate Health (Oct. 1), Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Oct. 1), Mass General Brigham (Oct. 15), and Beth Israel Lahey Health (Oct. 31).
Ronald A. Gabel, M.D., is Professor Emeritus of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Rochester. He lives in Yarmouth Port.