Spectrum Health announced Wednesday it will require all of its employees, volunteers, students and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

ST. JOSEPH — Spectrum Health, the parent health system of Spectrum Health Lakeland, will require all of its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Grand Rapids-based health system announced the move in a news release Wednesday, July 28, following several other health systems in Michigan.

Team members, medical staff, students, volunteers and contractors will be required to have the vaccine within eight weeks of the Food and Drug Administration fully approving the first COVID-19 vaccine and will consider exemptions as required by law. The final FDA approval is expected for the Pfizer vaccine as soon as next month.

Spectrum Health may decide to act more quickly if it sees a risk to team member and public health as a result of the delta variant, or subsequent variants, based on data in its local communities, the news release stated.

“As a mission-driven organization, we are here to improve health, inspire hope and save lives,” Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said in the news release. “We must do all we can to take care of each other and our community. Together, our actions will serve to save lives and shorten the impact of the pandemic – both clear benefits to the public good.”

She said health system officials thoroughly reviewed the scientific evidence and interviewed and debated with experts, both internal and external, to understand the facts.

“After robust conversations and time spent reviewing the science behind the vaccines, we reached our conclusion,” Freese Decker said.

Spectrum Health noted in the news release:

The COVID-19 vaccine reduces the risk for hospitalization and death by more than 95 percent.

Currently more than 99 percent of all deaths from COVID-19 infection are in unvaccinated persons.

Vaccination substantially reduces the risk of long-haul symptoms from COVID-19 as about 20-30 percent of people with mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 will develop at least one long-haul symptom.

The delta variant has been reported as 225 percent more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus from 2019.

As of July 20, data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates up to 83 percent of all current COVID-19 cases are due to the delta variant, which is an increase from 50 percent at the beginning of July.

States with low vaccination rates are seeing more young people requiring ICU and ventilator support.

“We agree with the science behind the vaccines, the facts related to the effectiveness of the vaccines and the thorough process the FDA takes in approving vaccines,” Freese Decker said. “We are applying the same logic to the COVID-19 vaccine as we did in requiring the flu and other vaccines. As a health organization that cares about our team members’ health and our communities’ health, we support the science and will act accordingly.”

Spectrum Health has about 31,000 staff members, 4,200 medical staff and 3,200 volunteers across its health system. Spectrum Health has three hospitals in St. Joseph, Niles and Watervliet, as well as an outpatient surgery center, a cancer center and 48 physical practices in Berrien County.

Earlier this month, the Berrien County Board of Health agreed to draft a resolution in support of requiring people who work in health care settings be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The board will take up the resolution at its meeting at 8 a.m. next Wednesday at the Berrien County Health Department, 2149 E. Napier Ave., Benton Harbor.

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