St. Luke's vaccine

A health care worker with St. Luke’s Health System administers a COVID-19 vaccine in this January file photo.

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BOISE — After months spent hoping employees would choose to get vaccinated on their own, St. Luke’s Health System officials made the jump Thursday, announcing eligible employees would be required to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 1.

St. Luke’s leadership said during a Friday news conference that the decision to require mandatory coronavirus vaccinations had been planned for months. More than 77% of employees have already been vaccinated, but President and CEO Chris Roth said that percentage is not high enough.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority as an organization,” Roth said. “We believe we have a sacred obligation to keep our team members safe so that we can be here to serve the community.”

Primary Health Group and the Saint Alphonsus Health System made similar announcements Thursday.

The new mandate is similar to existing vaccine requirements St. Luke’s already has for its employees. Flu shots, for example, have been mandated for more than a decade. Exceptions could be made for medical conditions or strongly held religious beliefs.

“The action we took yesterday was not actually anything new or earth-shaking,” Dr. Jim Souza, St. Luke’s chief medical officer, said. “It was only to add the new vaccine to our list of required vaccinations.”

The announcement comes as the delta variant spreads throughout the United States. Some health care systems are reaching capacity as a result, Souza said. The variant, he added, is at least twice as contagious as the original SARS-CoV-2.

Souza said he is worried about employees who don’t get vaccinated and, in turn, end up leaving St. Luke’s.

“We’re going to do everything that we can to keep that from happening,” he said.

Roth and Christy Neuhoff, St. Luke’s vice president and chief legal officer, both said they’re confident in the legality of the vaccine requirement.

In Idaho, 48.1% of people 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Roth said that isn’t acceptable.

“We need to do everything in our power to encourage others to get vaccinated,” Roth said. “It’s a public health issue. It’s the only way we’re going to work ourselves out of this pandemic and we have the opportunity to do that.”

Paul Schwedelson covers growth, Nampa and Caldwell. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

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