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Banner Health will require hospital staff to get COVID shots by November

Banner Health will require all of its 52,000 employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 1, officials announced Tuesday. 

"With limited exceptions, all team members have until November 1 to be fully vaccinated," officials with Banner said.

Banner representatives said that the move was necessary because of the spread of the Delta variant, widely considered to be a more virulent and possibly more deadly strain of the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 910,000 people in Arizona. COVID infections have killed 18,117 people in the state since the pandemic began last March. 

Nationwide, the U.S. has endured nearly 34 million cases since the pandemic began, and more than 600,000 people have died from coronavirus. 

Banner also expects that the Emergency Use Authorizations issued by the FDA for the three COVID-19 vaccinations will be lifted soon, and said that the move was necessary to protect patients and employees as the hospital network prepares for this year's flu season. 

"We care for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and we owe it to them to take every measure possible to ensure the safest care environment,” said Peter Fine, president and CEO for Banner Health. "We are taking this step to reduce risk for our patients, their families, visitors and each other. Safety is an absolute top priority and the COVID vaccine mandate reflects that commitment." 

"The vaccine data has fully supported the safety and efficacy to prevent disease and reduce its severity," he said. "There is overwhelming evidence for us to act on behalf of the communities that rely on us to care for and protect them." 

"In addition, national data shows that 97 percent of hospitalizations and 99 percent of COVID-19 deaths are in the unvaccinated," officials said.

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In Arizona, about 3.3 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and about 51.1 percent of people have received at least one vaccination, according to state data. In Pima County, more than 70 percent of people eligible to get the vaccine have received at least one dose, however, children under 12 cannot be vaccinated pending an approval by the FDA, leaving major questions about how the new Delta variant could cause new infections just as schools open for the fall in August. 

Moreover, data from the last seven days shows an increase the number of cases of COVID-19 in Pima County, and an increase in positive COVID-19 tests. 

The move could put Banner, one of the state's largest private employers, at odds with the Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

In April, Ducey signed an executive order banning so-called "vaccination passports." The order applied to business that have a government contract, and bars them from requiring customers to provide information on their vaccination status. However, the order allowed for hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities to ask about documentation of a visitor’s, patient’s, employee’s or resident’s vaccination status. Universities, child care centers, home schools and other schools are also exempt.

"The residents of our state should not be required by the government to share their private medical information," said Ducey in a press release about the executive order. "While we strongly recommend all Arizonans get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s not mandated in our state — and it never will be. Vaccination is up to each individual, not the government."

Similarly, some hospital workers have sued to keep vaccinations from being mandatory, but have lost their cases.

In Texas, a federal judge rejected a lawsuit from hospital workers, who sued their employer, Houston Methodist, arguing that a vaccination requirement was a violation of their civil rights. 

In his ruling issued on June 14, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes upheld the hospital’s policy, writing that the policy was not coercion. The hospital, Hughes wrote, "is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus," he wrote. "It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer." 

Based in Arizona, Banner Health manages 30 acute-care hospitals, including hospitals in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, and Wyoming. This includes Banner University Medical Center, and Banner University Medical South, as well as the Cancer Center and the Diamond Children's Medical Center in Tucson

In July, Banner launched an "incentive program" for employees who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, giving up to 10 winners a prize of $10,000 each. Banner said that it also gave employees time off with pay to get vaccinated, as well as mileage reimbursement and "points" toward a wellness program that offers discounts on health insurance.

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A man in Tucson gets his COVID-19 vaccination as part of a clinic.

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