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No vaccine? No patients! Hospital relegates unvaccinated staff to paper pushing

The Health Ministry has called for non-inoculated staff to be kept away from highest-risk wards; Jerusalem’s Hadassah has gone a step further, barring contact with all patients

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in a coronavirus ward, on February 01, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in a coronavirus ward, on February 01, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center on Tuesday decreed that unvaccinated medical staff can no longer treat patients.

The hospital told workers that as of Sunday, doctors and nurses who haven’t taken COVID-19 shots or acquired some level of immunity by recovering from the virus will find themselves resigned to administrative roles or any other position that the hospital sees fit.

“We can turn nurses and doctors into administrators or put them in any other jobs we find around the hospital,” a Hadassah spokeswoman told The Times of Israel, adding that they will continue to be paid their regular salaries.

Around 5 percent of medical staff at the hospital — some 300 people — currently lack immunity from vaccines or from virus recovery.

A Hadassah medical staff member receives the second round of a COVID-19 vaccine, on January 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The announcement came on the heels of a Health Ministry directive that calls for unvaccinated staff and students to be barred from working in certain departments across Israeli hospitals and in community healthcare. They include wards for people in a state of immunosuppression, including oncology, pre-term infants and bone marrow transplant patients.

The Health Ministry directive also stated: “A new employee who refuses to be vaccinated should not be hired at a medical institution.” It said unvaccinated employees should only be allowed to work in coronavirus wards if they sign a special waiver.

The directive will be enforced by the ministry at government-owned hospitals, while others are urged to comply. The ministry said unvaccinated workers at government hospitals will also be summoned to an immunization clinic to be informed of the potential medical consequences of their failure to vaccinate.

The directive has prompted a flurry of meetings in hospitals, with directors debating if and when to implement the policy, given that some staff are still being vaccinated. The matter is still under discussion at Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, a spokesman told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

He said that the issue “presents an ethical dilemma for all hospital directors.”

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Hadassah Medical Center speaks during a press conference at the Hadassah Ein Karem hospital in Jerusalem on November 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But at Hadassah, CEO Zeev Rostein said he had considered the issue and decided that patient rights trump the choice of staff to shun vaccination, given that the “weakened public must be protected.”

He acknowledged “the tension between individual rights and the public and professional responsibilities that apply to all hospital staff,” but said that the health of patients comes first. He noted that employees who have a special reason for not vaccinating will be given special permission to work with patients.

Prof. Nadav Davidovitch. (courtesy of Nadav Davidovitch)

The Israeli Nurses Association did not respond to a Times of Israel request to clarify its position on the Hadassah and Ministry of Health policies, while the doctors’ union expressed mixed feelings.

Prof Nadav Davidovitch, a senior official in the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, said that the Health Ministry policy is valid as it gives options for non-vaccinating hospital staff to work with low-risk patients.

The Hadassah policy which would remove them from patients entirely goes too far in the union’s view. It is “not proportionate,” Davidovitch said, also claiming it could have problematic consequences.

“There is a shortage of healthcare workers so it’s not so practical,” he said.

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