MORGANTOWN—Four West Virginia emergency medical service agencies are taking the lead on mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for providers.
Monongalia EMS, Star City EMS, HealthNet Aeromedical Services and HealthTeam Critical Care Transport are the first EMS agencies in the state to require employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. All providers will be required to get fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 unless exempted for medical or religious reasons.
“We really feel as if this is a growing need to assure delivery of emergency medical services to our communities,” said Clinton Burley, president and CEO of Healthnet Aeromedical Services. “If we don’t have a healthy workforce, we’re not able to meet the transport needs of the region.”
Star City EMS Executive Director John Hitchens said the decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations is in the best interest of the communities the providers serve as well as for the safety of the providers and their families.
Hitchens said he hopes this mandate will pave the way for other organizations to consider implementing similar requirements if at all possible.
“Hopefully, it’ll create a pathway for other agencies that may be hesitant or [are] experiencing some indecision about mandating the vaccine or not,” he said. “Some agencies may not feel that it’s appropriate for them to mandate it and that’s perfectly fine.”
Monongalia EMS Executive Director Forest Weyen said EMS employees have an obligation to protect those they serve and requiring the vaccine is part of that. He said the COVID-19 vaccine is not the first time this type of requirement has been placed on EMS workers, such as being vaccinated annually against the flu.
“We’re going into these people’s homes, their schools, their workplaces,” Weyen said. “The thing that you want when you call EMS is you want to ensure that people that are coming to help you are doing everything they can to be protected, so that you as a patient are protected as well.”
Weyen said about 85% of Monongalia County EMS employees are fully vaccinated and the majority of employees have responded positively to the new requirement. Hitchens said all Star City EMS employees have already received the first dose of the vaccine, with a couple of employees in need of receiving the second dose by the November deadline.
About 80 percent of HealthNet’s air operation employees and about 60 percent of its ground operation employees have been fully vaccinated. Several other employees have also already received the first dose.
Burley said losing employees due to the mandate is a concern, but it is not great enough to override the necessity of vaccinating employees.
“The overriding concern of healthcare limiters must be a laser focus on what is best for the greater good,” he said. “That’s really where our leadership team is focused and vaccinations among EMS personnel is definitely for the greater good.”
These mandates follow in the footsteps of several of the state’s major medical centers, regional hospital systems and nursing care facilities which have already begun requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. WVU Medicine and Mon Health Systems are among those who have announced mandates of their own throughout the past few weeks.
Mandates among these EMS organizations also follow an announcement from the Food and Drug Administration, granting full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s very clear at this point that the vaccine is well researched and it’s very safe,” Burley said. “Most importantly, it clearly decreases the likelihood of critical Illness and death.”