FARGO — Sanford Health is the first in the region to put a COVID-19 vaccine mandate into place. Employees have until Nov. 1 to get the shot, or they will need a new job.
The healthcare provider already requires an annual flu shot. The issue of vaccine mandates by employers and schools is spreading fast across the country, just like the new delta variant of the virus. The delta variant is part of the reason Sanford put the mandate into place.
Currently, 10% of physicians at Sanford aren't vaccinated. The number of unvaccinated nurses is at 30%.
"We need to move the dial by increasing the vaccination rate," said Sanford Health Vice President Dr. Doug Griffin.
Griffin said the mandate isn't only about getting his staff vaccinated, but hopes this is the prescription to encourage those in the general public who have been hesitant to roll up their sleeves too.
"We have been leaders and at the front of the line managing the pandemic. This is just another step," Griffin said.
He does not feel the mandate will disrupt care, and that most of the employees who have not been vaccinated will get the shot.
"Some people have been cautious and waiting for more information and safety on the vaccination, some people are just opposed to vaccines," said Griffin referring to his employees.
"I anticipated some big health care systems doing this," said Tessa Johnson, the president of the North Dakota Nurses Association.
Johnson expects more health care providers to follow Sanford. So far, no nurses from Sanford have reached out to complain, but she does expect some independent push back from nurses.
"If you don't want to do it, then maybe healthcare isn't for you during a pandemic," Johnson said.
UND Law Professor Paul Traynor said opponents of vaccine mandates don't have much of a legal fight.
"You don't have the the right to put the rest of the population in danger," Traynor said. "You may think you do, you make think this infringes on your constitutional rights, but the court is very clear. The law is very clear."
He is referring to the 1905 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, when a community in Massachusetts required residents to get the small pox vaccine. During that time, those not vaccinated could be fined, or go to jail.
"The hospital has a responsibility to it employees, its patients, its visitors to provide as much protection as possible," said Traynor.
The courts have protected people from vaccine mandates for religious reasons, and if they have health conditions.
Essentia says it's exploring options for a mandate. Altru in Grand Forks says it's monitoring the situation.