WellSpan Health will require its staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the health system announced earlier this month.

WellSpan operates eight hospitals in the region, including Good Samaritan in Lebanon. In a statement, WellSpan said the move complies with the recent mandate from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Health Services.

WellSpan’s 20,000 or so employees must receive their first vaccine dose by Dec. 1 and their second by Jan. 5, 2022, or lose their jobs. Exceptions will be granted for religious and medical reasons.

“WellSpan continues to believe that vaccination is the single best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the statement said.

Among current COVID-19 patients at its hospitals, 99% who require breathing support and
95% who need ICU-level care are unvaccinated, the statement added. Ninety percent of those hospitalized overall aren’t vaccinated.

As of Oct. 14, there were 45 COVID-19 inpatients at Good Samaritan Hospital, quadruple the total from two months ago.

The average age of a patient hospitalized in the WellSpan system for COVID-19 is 65.2 years. That number peaked in December 2020 at 72.

Asked for her reaction to the news of WellSpan’s mandate, Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz told LebTown via email, “At a commissioners’ conference, I learned that with the delta variant, employers can mandate (a) vaccine based on the Constitution.”

This derives from the 1905 U.S. Supreme Court decision Jacobson v. Massachusetts. The case dealt with the 14th Amendment and ruled that the smallpox vaccine could be mandatory “in the interest of public health and safety,” she said. “That now applies to the coronavirus vaccine.”

“Of course, there are medical and sincere religious exemptions based on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” she added. “Employers should always consult their attorney before
implementing a policy of this magnitude.”

In August, Litz sat in on a WellSpan Zoom meeting and wrote down some quotes that stood
out. She said one physician made the point that, “Everyone is either going to get the virus or
get vaccinated. What is the lower risk to your life?”

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, which also provides services in Lebanon County, was among the first health networks to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for its staff. That went into effect Sept. 1.

Before the mandate was announced, about 66% of LG Health employees were vaccinated. By last month, that had risen to more than 98%, LNP | LancasterOnline reported.

A group opposed to the vaccine requirement, Pennsylvania Informed Consent Advocates, has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the mandate violates workers’ First Amendment right to free speech.

Plaintiffs in other states have brought similar lawsuits.

According to Bloomberg Law, there have been at least 39 federal cases in 2021 contesting vaccination requirements by governments or employers, 85% of which were filed after Aug. 1.

In a dozen of the cases, courts denied requests for temporary orders against mandates. Seven more lawsuits were dismissed.

The only rulings favoring the plaintiffs involved exceptions to the mandates, not the mandates themselves.

Last month, President Joe Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write rules requiring private companies with 100 or more employees to vaccinate their staff against COVID-19 or test unvaccinated workers at least once a week.

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Paula Wolf worked for 31 years as a general assignment reporter, sports columnist, and editorial writer for LNP Media. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she is a lifetime resident of Lancaster County.