Rush mandates COVID vaccine for all employees, more hospitals to follow

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Within 24 hours of the COVID vaccine's arrival in December, Rush University Medical Center began to vaccinate its 12,000 employees, but not all were willing to get it.

"Over 80% of our employees are vaccinated at this point; throughout Chicago the average is around 70%," said Dr. Paul Casey, chief medical officer. "We are a little ahead of the curve."

But 80% is not good enough to guarantee the safety of their patients, so Rush will mandate the COVID vaccine for all its workers, contractors and volunteers. They have until October 1 to be fully vaccinated.

RELATED: Chicago COVID vaccine map shows how many residents vaccinated by zip code

Flu vaccines have been mandated at Rush for years.

"I think you are starting to see that tide turning a lot of organizations are getting behind this and there are a lot of hospital organizations throughout the city and country, I'm confident are going in that direction," Casey said.

Monday the American Medical Association and several other major health groups called for vaccine mandates in health care settings. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a vaccine mandate for VA healthcare workers, making it the first federal agency to do so.

"I think it makes sense to have frontline health care workers vaccinate to the fullest extent we have," said Dr. Benjamin Singer, Northwestern Hospital pulmonary and critical care specialist.

Northwestern Medicine has not announced a vaccine mandate for its workers yet, but it is likely to follow the lead of others soon.

Doctors expect full FDA approval of the vaccine by the end of August. Many predict that will pave the way for more vaccine mandates in and out of health care settings.

While Chicago hospital intensive care units are far from being overwhelmed again, Singer said Northwestern hospitalizations are slowly creeping up among mostly unvaccinated people.

"Much have we seen since the beginning of the pandemic, this is a virus that causes people to become extremely sick, as a critical care doctor these are some of the sickest patients I've ever taken care of," he said.

According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, almost all of the city's COVID hospitalizations and deaths are from unvaccinated people.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.