It wasn’t long ago that that overwhelming numbers of people across Texas and the nation – on all sides of the political spectrum – knew and acknowledged that vaccines prevent diseases.
Seventy years ago, polio crippled thousands of American children. Before the polio vaccine, the coffin-like “iron lung” confined patients who were suffering late-stage paralysis from the disease. As we all know, Jonas Salk’s work helped put an end to that epidemic, and other immunization breakthroughs have kept generation after generation safe from severe sickness and premature death.
Today, however, the winds are dangerously shifting thanks to continued skepticism over the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and a carryover effect that’s creating new skepticism about other vaccines – the ones that have been tried and true for decades. So even as the pandemic seems to be winding down, the issue of vaccine mandates remains a source of contention in this session of the Texas Legislature. As a result, the Texas Hospital Association is pushing hard to make sure vaccine mandates – COVID-19 and otherwise – have a place in hospitals, as needed, to keep our hospital workers and our communities safe.
As you have heard repeatedly by this point – or experienced personally – COVID-19 put immense pressures on health facilities across the nation. Reputable science is not divided on the efficacy of vaccines to prevent and mitigate that disease. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show someone who receives a COVID vaccination is 14 times less likely to die from the disease than an unvaccinated person. If the experiences of the pandemic have taught hospitals a lesson, it is that vaccinations save lives.
Yet some legislation proposed this session has been laser-focused on banning mandates for COVID preventive measures – including not just vaccines, but even the use of masks, for any reason, within a hospital. THA is tracking 34 pieces of vaccine-related legislation that would implement myriad ill-advised policies, including prohibiting or repealing school-related vaccine mandates and barring health providers from requiring their Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program patients be vaccinated. Each have the potential of posing a distinct danger to public health efforts and put hospitals in a position of complying with anti-vaccine ideology.
Other measures attempt to outlaw vaccine mandates – including in hospitals – even as our facilities operate under an existing Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services vaccine mandate. In recent committee testimony, THA aired deep concerns about several such measures.
Hospitals cannot conform to a one-size-fits-all solution to vaccinations and disease control. They must retain their ability to protect both vulnerable patients and the health care workforce. But the Medicare vaccine mandate, and the attempts at the state level to prohibit those and other vaccine mandates, leave our hospitals caught in the middle. Facilities must conform to the federal mandate in order to benefit from federal programs. The financial strain that would result from not doing so would contribute to a reduction of services and an enhanced threat of hospital closure – at a time when nearly one in 10 Texas hospitals already faces that threat.
Ultimately, COVID-19 – and the development of the immunizations to combat it – provided another high-level data point to a long-standing truth: Infectious diseases take lives, and vaccines save them. Vaccines help ensure hospitals’ ability to protect people. THA is working hard to make sure Texas doesn’t have to relearn these old lessons.
Originally published by the Houston Medical Journal.
April 19, 2023