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UPMC urges, but won’t require staff COVID-19 shots

In the future UPMC may require its employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as is currently the policy when it comes to the annual flu shot.

But as of present — and which has been the case since December when doses first became available — the Pittsburgh-based health care system is not mandating its workers become inoculated against the coronavirus.

UPMC spokeswomana Karen Beardsley said, as of this week, more than 70% of all staff on a “system-wide basis” have been vaccinated against COVID-19, a rate that has pleased officials. The health care industry giant has about 90,000 employees across dozens of hospitals, including UPMC Chautauqua in Jamestown.

It’s not known how many have been vaccinated within UPMC’s local footprint, but officials are still encouraging all employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. There are currently three options: the two-dose shots by Pfizer and Moderna, and the one-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson.

“We are listening to our remaining staff to understand the various reasons they haven’t been vaccinated, address concerns and remove barriers to vaccination,” Beardsley told The Post-Journal in a statement. “UPMC encourages all staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and we offer many opportunities for vaccination to ease this process.”

Late last year, just as the first doses were to be delivered to front-line workers, UPMC announced that — unlike its policy regarding the flu shot — vaccinations for the coronavirus would be voluntary. The reason, according to Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC’s medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the time, was that there was no history or significant data on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, Snyder noted, there is ample history with the influenza vaccine and how effective it has been through the years.

UPMC continues to await “more data on the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing transmission of COVID-19 before requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for employees,” Beardsley said.

She added that the vaccine is only one layer of protection across its hospitals. “At UPMC, our multiple infection prevention efforts – including mandatory employee, patient, and visitor masking – are highly effective at preventing transmission of COVID-19 within our facilities.

“We will continue to collect data and weigh evidence on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and may require our employees to receive them in the future.”

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