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By The End Of September, Calif. Health Workers Must Get Vaccinated

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Meanwhile in California, health care workers are now mandated to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September. They're the first of the nation to do this. There are narrow exceptions for medical or religious reasons, but state health officials say aside from that, there is no alternative anymore. You have to get the shot.

Sammy Caiola at CapRadio in Sacramento reports.

SAMMY CAIOLA, BYLINE: Doctor's offices, nursing homes and hospitals - all workers in these locations need to get vaccinated, including people who don't interact with patients. That means people in food services, facilities management or billing.

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom said health workers could get their shots or be tested at least once a week. Health officials now say they're taking stronger measures to protect the state's most vulnerable from the highly contagious delta variant.

Mark Ghaly is California's secretary of Health and Human Services.

MARK GHALY: Californians should be confident that their health care providers are taking all steps to protect patients and overall community health. And in the face of surging COVID cases, steps like these are how California preserves one of our most precious gifts - our health care workers who take care of us when we're sick.

CAIOLA: The SEIU Local 2015 union represents California's long-term care workers. They support the mandate, but President April Verrett says it must come with accommodations.

APRIL VERRETT: We also may have to make sure the vaccine continues to be readily available and accessible. To people who work, you know, lots of double shifts - right? - they should be able to get the vaccine on paid time.

CAIOLA: The state says employees may have options for compensated time off to get vaccinated, including COVID paid sick leave. Industry leaders are concerned that the mandate will push people out of the health field.

DEBORAH PACYNA: Our workforce shortage is critical.

CAIOLA: Deborah Pacyna is with a trade group called the California Association of Health Facilities. They represent nursing homes and centers for people with disabilities and mental illness.

PACYNA: A lot of people may decide they're just going to quit their jobs, and that will then trigger into a problem of access to services at skilled nursing.

CAIOLA: Officials worry that without more drastic measures, the delta variant will continue its rapid spread and risk overtaxing the health care system. Despite the surge in coronavirus cases, new vaccinations have slowed since the spring. Roughly 37% of Californians have not been fully immunized. For NPR News, I'm Sammy Caiola in Sacramento. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.