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But the legal landscape is confusing at best, with states and local governments often running counter to the federal efforts. In Florida, where AdventHealth, HCA and UF Health Jacksonville have all paused their requirements, Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibited vaccine mandates by private employers shortly after the federal government issued its rule for health care workers.
Exactly how many health care workers still need to get vaccinated is also unclear. While a study by federal researchers found that 30 percent of hospital workers were not fully vaccinated as of mid-September, overall immunization rates have climbed in the last few months. HCA, which employs about 275,000 workers and operates in 20 states, said most of its workers were fully vaccinated, but it would not provide specifics. Neither AdventHealth nor UF Health Jacksonville would say how many of its employees were vaccinated. Unlike nursing homes, hospitals are not required to publicly report their vaccination rates.
But many hospitals insist they are continuing efforts to persuade workers. “Based on scientific evidence and what we see in our hospitals every day, Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective at reducing both the risk of becoming infected and the level of harm in the case of a breakthrough infection,” AdventHealth said in a statement.
Hospitals “are totally committed to having their work force vaxxed,” said Chip Kahn, the chief executive of the Federation of American Hospitals, which represents for-profit chains like HCA.
Much of the opposition to the requirements is over concerns that workers who object to the vaccine will leave. Many hospital chains said departures had not been numerous, but Mr. Kahn emphasized that even a small number of resignations can be disruptive. “Those small numbers can really be a problem,” he said.
Some hospital companies said they would pursue alternatives to keep patients and employees safe. The Cleveland Clinic, which estimated that nearly 85 percent of its employees were fully vaccinated, said it was adding more measures, “including periodic testing for those providing direct clinical care.”
Hospitals that do not want to insist on immunizations are focusing on testing their employees, said Ann Marie Pettis, the president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, which supports a mandate for health care workers. “It’s not like they are just throwing up their hands and saying it is a free-for-all,” she said.