Photo by Jake Hines Dr. Melissa Zukowski, an Emergency Department Medical Director at Banner University Medical Center in Tucson, receives the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. The vaccines are among the first to be distributed by Banner Health in Pima County.
Photo by Jake Hines

The hospital network employs approximately 52,000 people in six states.

Banner Health announced Tuesday that it would require employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1, becoming the latest hospital network across the country to do so.

The hospital network, Arizona’s largest private employer, said in a statement that it was making the decision for several reasons, including the need to protect its patients and workforce.

“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,” Banner Health President and CEO Peter Fine said in a company-wide email sent Tuesday to employees. 

Banner Health joins other hospital systems who have made the decision to mandate vaccines in recent weeks. Earlier this month, a Texas federal court sided with a Houston hospital after some employees who were suspended sued over a policy that required them to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Banner Health employs approximately 52,000 people in six states. A company press release cited flu season, the increased spread of the Delta variant of the virus, and pending full approval of the vaccine by the US Food and Drug Administration as reasons it was requiring the vaccine.

The company also referenced data that showed 97% of hospitalizations and 99% of COVID-19 related deaths were from unvaccinated individuals

Banner Health said it would make limited exceptions to the requirement, although it did not specify who would be exempt. An exemption request process would be shared with Banner employees in the coming weeks, according to the press release.

Vaccines have been widely available across Arizona and open to all eligible residents since March, but only 51% of the state’s residents were vaccinated as of Tuesday.

In July, Banner launched an incentive program for employees who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including a drawing in which 10 vaccinated employees will win $10,000 each. Banner employees also receive paid time off, mileage reimbursement, and discounts on health insurance to get vaccinated.

“We are taking this step to reduce risk for our patients, their families, visitors and each other,” Fine said in his email. “There is overwhelming evidence for us to act on behalf of the communities that rely on us to care for and protect them.”

CONTINUE READING: Health Officials Encourage Vaccinations As Delta Variant of COVID-19 Spreads in Maricopa County