Unvaccinated health care workers in roughly half the United States are required to get a first dose of a Covid vaccine by Thursday under a federal mandate that has understaffed hospitals and nursing homes bracing to lose more workers.
The Biden administration’s mandate, which is to take effect in stages, will ultimately affect about 10 million health care workers in 76,000 hospitals, nursing homes, home-health agencies and other providers that participate in Medicaid and Medicare.
Thursday’s deadline follows a Supreme Court decision on Jan. 13 that blocked a vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers but upheld a vaccination requirement for health care workers at facilities subsidized by federal funds. These medical facilities will lose funding if they do not comply, federal officials said.
The vaccine requirement goes into effect this week in states that did not challenge the mandate in court, including California, Hawaii, Minnesota and New York, as well as all U.S. territories.
Health care workers in most of the remaining states, where a lower court had blocked the mandate, will have until Feb. 14 to receive a first dose. For Texas, the deadline falls on Feb. 22. To keep their jobs, all health care workers must be fully vaccinated a month after their first dose.
Some in the nursing home industry say the mandate could exacerbate staffing shortages and threaten care for older patients. They have repeatedly pushed for a testing option for their workers.
Mark Parkinson, the chief executive of the American Health Care Association, a trade group representing thousands of nursing homes across the country, said in a statement last week that its members remained “concerned that the repercussions of the vaccine mandate among health care workers will be devastating to an already decimated long-term care work force.”
A little over 80 percent of the staff at the trade group’s nursing homes is fully vaccinated, Mr. Parkinson said. He said providers had made “valiant efforts” to inoculate their staff and should not be penalized.
Mary Susan Tack-Yurek, the chief quality officer and a partner at Quality Life Services, a nursing home chain in western Pennsylvania, said her company had achieved a high vaccination rate without a mandate. More than 96 percent of the chain’s employees are vaccinated or have a medical exemption, she said, a steep rise from October, when less than half of its staff was inoculated.
“We strongly support the vaccine and its effectiveness and authenticity, but we respect individual choice,” she said.
Supporters of mandates say they have spurred millions of hesitant Americans to get their shots and are needed to stem the spread of the virus, especially among vulnerable hospital patients and nursing home residents.
Nursing homes have already exhausted various financial incentives to encourage voluntary vaccination, including lotteries and giveaways, said Dr. Brian McGarry, a health researcher at the University of Rochester who specializes in researching long-term health care.
“I think the only kind of tool that’s left in the policy tool kit is a blanket mandate,” he said.