CHICAGO (WLS) -- Healthcare workers have been dealing with flu vaccine mandates for decades with few objections, but the COVID-19 vaccine was a tougher sell even among an industry about science
"They are fearful of the unknown, I think," said Dr. Louis Hondros, a Rush University Medical Center emergency room physician. "The majority come around once they really read the science behind it."
Just a few months ago, about 75-80 percent of Rush University Medical Center employees were vaccinated. It was about the same rate at the much smaller Saint Anthony Hospital. There was a real fear imposing mandates would drive employees away in an industry that was already facing big labor shortages.
"We had no idea what the mandate would do," said Dr. Eden Takhsh, Saint Anthony Hospital's vice president and chief quality officer. "We feel lucky that we landed on the right side of the mandate."
As its October mandate deadline neared, vaccination rates went up significantly. Saint Anthony Hospital's staff is now over 98 percent vaccinated. Rush University Medical Center compliance rate even higher.
"We are so pleased this week we hit 99 percent compliance in vaccination," said Courtney Kammer, Rush University Medical Center's senior vice president and chief human resource officer.
Both Rush University Medical Center and Saint Anthony Hospital credit their own targeted education campaigns for helping convince vaccine hold-outs. They said mandates pushed the vaccination rates even higher without losing employees.
"Ultimately, what we chose to do is put our patient safety and employee safety first when we made the decision," Takhsh said.
Saint Anthony Hospital said the one to two percent of employees who did not comply with the mandate no longer work there. Rush University Medical Center said it is giving its less than 100 unvaccinated workers another chance get the shot.