Southwest Missouri health system requires employee vaccines

Empty COVID-19 unit
Posted at 5:26 PM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 18:26:20-04

JOPLIN, Mo. — One of Missouri's biggest hospital systems announced Monday that it would require its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, wasting little time after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer's version of the drug.

CoxHealth, which is based in Springfield but has several other facilities in the state's southwest, said hours after the FDA's announcement that its workers will be required to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 15. CEO Steve Edwards said in a statement that "careful consideration" would be given to requests for exemptions for religious or health reasons, and that anyone granted exemptions would be required to undergo testing for the virus.

CoxHealth officials said about 70% of the system's employees are already vaccinated, including more than 90% of its physicians.

"This decision is ultimately led by science, which has shown us that vaccinations are the way we can end this pandemic," Edwards said. "Ultimately, this decision has been made in support of our most urgent priority of protecting our employees, patients and community."

The Mercy health system announced early last month that it would require all of its workers to be vaccinated by Sept. 30 or face losing their jobs.

Missouri has a lower vaccination rate than the national average. As of Monday, 44% of Missouri residents ages 12 and older had been fully vaccinated, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. Nationwide, that figure stood at 51.5%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's count.

Joplin became the first of Missouri's larger cities where a majority of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state health department, which showed that 50.2% of the city's roughly 50,000 people had completed the process.

The state categorizes COVID-19 data by county, with Joplin, Kansas City and St. Louis the only Missouri cities tracked separately. Kansas City reported that just less than 42% of its residents are fully vaccinated, while that figure stood at just 39% in St. Louis as of Monday.

Boone County, where the University of Missouri is located, reported that 49% of its residents are fully vaccinated. Greene County, which includes Springfield, had 39.5% vaccinated.