Houston Methodist Requires COVID-19 Vaccine for Credentialed Doctors

June 8, 2021 - Todd Ackerman

Houston Methodist is mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all credentialed members of its medical staff — the nation's first hospital system to require its private health care providers to get the shot.

The policy follows a Houston Methodist requirement that all employees be vaccinated, a policy whose precedent-setting nature drew national attention. That mandate began with hospital leadership, then was rolled out to everyone employed at the system.

"Since we're requiring the staff to be vaccinated, we physicians need to set an example," says Dr. Stuart L. Solomon, president of the medical staff at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. "I'm extraordinarily proud the medical staff is leading the way on this."

Leading the fight againt COVID-19: Vaccination required

In an April letter informing medical staff of the policy, Houston Methodist Chief Physician Executive Dr. Rob Phillips wrote that it's time to take the commitment to the fight against the COVID-19 "one step further. I know we can count on you to help protect our patients and the community. It is our duty as health care professionals to do no harm and protect the safety of all of us — our colleagues, our patients and our society."

The policy, adopted by all eight Houston Methodist Hospital medical staff executive committees, gave doctors until June 7 to demonstrate they've been vaccinated or become subject to automatic suspension of their clinical privileges. Doctors were able to submit a request for a medical or religious exemption.

The requirement applies to nurse practitioners, physician assistants and physician scientists who have clinical privileges at Houston Methodist, not just physicians.

Surprisingly, health care workers around the country haven't been much more eager to get the COVID-19 vaccine than the general public. Despite studies that show the vaccine is safe and as much as 95% protective against the virus, more than 40% of health care employees responding to a recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll say they oppose a mandate for employees who work with patients.

Houston Methodist hasn't encountered such resistance. As of June 1, more than 99% of the system's 26,000 employees and physicians have received the vaccine.

Is it legal to make vaccines mandatory for employees?

Such policies have the approval of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), whose updated guidance in late May made clear that employers can mandate employees get the vaccine. The justification is based on the premise that unvaccinated employees present a "direct threat" to others in the workplace.

The EEOC noted that employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are exempt from mandatory immunization based on the Americans with Disabilities Act

Dr. Solomon adds that Houston Methodist is within not just its legal rights to require vaccination, but also its moral rights. He echoed Houston Methodist President Dr. Marc Boom's admonition that it's Houston Methodist's "sacred obligation to do everything possible to keep our patients safe."

Other health care providers have begun to follow Houston Methodist's lead, though it is not clear if those extend to private doctors. Benefis Health System of Montana, RWJBarnabas Health in New Jersey, Indiana University Health and University of Louisville Health have all recently announced policies mandating the vaccines for employees. Some of those mandates aren't scheduled to begin until September, by which time the Food and Drug Administration is expected to grant the vaccines full approval, up from the current emergency approval.