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AMITA Health joins hospitals mandating vaccines; Northwestern Medicine, still not

AMITA Health on Tuesday joined the list of Chicago-area hospitals requiring vaccinations for health care workers. Every major area health care system now has — except Northwestern Medicine.

Critical care nurses Kirsten Shea, RN (L) and Kathryn Lullo, RN (R) pose for a portrait in front of signs saying “Heroes Work Here,” outside AMITA Health Alexian Brothers Medical Center Elk Grove Village in December 2020.
Critical care nurses Kirsten Shea, RN (L) and Kathryn Lullo, RN (R) pose for a portrait in front of signs saying “Heroes Work Here,” outside AMITA Health Alexian Brothers Medical Center Elk Grove Village in December 2020.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

AMITA Health, one of Illinois’ largest health systems, on Tuesday joined the majority of Chicago-area hospitals now requiring vaccinations for health care workers. Every major health care system now has — except Northwestern Medicine.

“Only by vaccinating will we stop this virus from circulating and mutating. AMITA Health will be requiring all associates to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 12, 2021,” AMITA said in a statement.

“With the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases locally and across the nation due to the rise of the Delta variant, it’s more important than ever to take every possible step we can to protect our patients and the communities we are privileged to serve.”

Emailed Tuesday to its 20,000 employees statewide, including at 14 acute care hospitals, the change of policy follows Monday’s approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty for those age 16 and older.

More than 50 national medical organizations had been urging vaccine mandates for health care workers, as coronavirus cases surge, driven by the rapid spread of the Delta variant among the unvaccinated. Many of those same groups Monday expressed hope the FDA approval would move holdout hospitals and health systems nationwide to act.

Most Chicago-area hospital systems had issued the mandates except AMITA, NorthShore University HealthSystem and Northwestern Medicine. In the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times column on an experience with an unvaccinated medical tech at a NorthShore hospital, NorthShore last week issued its policy mandating workers be vaccinated by Oct. 31.

The debate over health care mandates has raged, one side arguing freedom of choice and a potential to exacerbate the nation’s already critical health care worker shortage if workers opt to leave; the other side calling such compulsory vaccination fulfillment of health care workers’ “ethical commitment” to take all steps necessary to ensure patients’ health and well-being.