Kaiser Permanente officials announced Monday that the health care provider will mandate all of its employees nationwide get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September.
Roughly 78% of Kaiser employees and more than 95% of Kaiser physicians are already fully vaccinated as of July 31, according to Kaiser officials. The health care provider set a deadline of Sept. 30 for all of its employees to get fully vaccinated.
Michelle Gaskill-Hames, Kaiser's senior vice president for hospital and health plan operations in Northern California, said Kaiser has worked with the labor unions representing its employees to craft the vaccine requirement and both sides did so with an emphasis on maintaining employee safety.
"Our health care workers are tired, they are disappointed that we've got a fourth surge and when we look at it, we believe that this was mostly preventable with vaccinations," Gaskill-Hames said.
While Gaskill-Hames avoided giving exact numbers, she did confirm that Kaiser has had some so-called breakthrough COVID-19 cases among its vaccinated staff members.
She also noted the amount of those cases has been low, even when compared to other health care organizations and hospital settings. Across the entire Kaiser system, roughly 97-99% of current hospital admissions have been among unvaccinated people.
The mandate will apply across all of Kaiser's locations in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and Washington, D.C. in addition to the health care provider's locations in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a requirement last week for all health care workers to get vaccinated or be subject to frequent COVID-19 testing.
Across the country, Kaiser has more than 216,000 employees and employs more than 23,000 physicians.
"The COVID-19 vaccines offer us the path to move beyond the pandemic in the same way vaccination has brought an end to the epidemics of smallpox, polio, measles and other deadly diseases," The Permanente Federation Co-CEO Dr. Ramin Davidoff said in a statement.
Gaskill-Hames said Kaiser will require its unvaccinated workers to begin testing regularly on Aug. 23, but that Kaiser officials hoped to go one step further and render the testing requirement unnecessary after Sept. 30 by reaching full vaccination.
Gaskill-Hames also argued that the best way to support the industry is to get vaccinated and significantly reduce the chance of getting hospitalized because of a COVID-19 infection.
“We saw a huge outpouring of love and support to the health care industry as we were going through the first and second surges," she said. "We need that same help now as we're starting to see our (intensive care units) fill up again."