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04-21-21-pennvaccinationsite-0459
University of Pennsylvania Health System announced on May 20 that it would be requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 1, and other private employers who are requiring COVID-19 vaccines. Credit: Chase Sutton

United States District Judge Lynn N. Hughes dismissed a lawsuit on June 12 against the Houston Methodist Hospital System for requiring its employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, a decision that may be reassuring to the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

After requiring its 26,000 employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Houston Methodist Hospital System faced a lawsuit from 117 of their workers who argued that forcing employees to be “human 'guinea pigs'” for the COVID-19 vaccine is unethical, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported

“Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus,” Hughes wrote in his ruling. “It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.” 

Hughes’ decision to dismiss the lawsuit could be reassuring to UPHS, which announced on May 20 that it would be requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 1, and other private employers who are requiring COVID-19 vaccines. 

Although evidence suggests that the vaccine is safe and effective, many question the legality of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine, arguing that by federal law people must be told they can refuse a vaccine that was provisionally approved by the Food and Drug Administration for Emergency Use Authorization, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Experts expect that the FDA will fully approve at least one of the COVID-19 vaccines during the second half of this year.

UPHS currently grants exemptions to the vaccine requirement to those with histories of severe allergic reactions and those with medical conditions known to make receiving the COVID-19 vaccine risky, the Inquirer reported. Employees who are within 90 days of recovery from COVID-19, are undergoing chemotherapy, or are pregnant will be allowed to receive the vaccine after Sept. 1. All employees who are unable to receive the vaccine for religious or medical reasons must apply and be approved for an exemption.

“A philosophical objection is not enough,” Chief Medical Officer of UPHS Patrick Brennan told the Inquirer. “That can become more political than religious.”

According to federal law, UPHS is allowed to reassign employees who are granted religious exemptions to other jobs and require that they take extra preventative measures to avoid the spread of the disease, the Inquirer reported.

Employees of Lancaster General Hospital are protesting and petitioning UPHS’s vaccine mandate because they would like to wait for more data before being required to receive the vaccine, Eric Winter, the lawyer representing the employees, told the Inquirer.

According to the Inquirer, over 99% of Houston Methodist Hospital System employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 285 employees received exemptions, 332 were granted postponements, and 178 were suspended for noncompliance.

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