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Health care workers will get COVID-19 vaccine first in Miss., but not all will be required to take it

For now, UMMC will not make vaccines mandatory for staff because of concerns over safety, supply
Updated: Dec. 3, 2020 at 7:28 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The first people prioritized to get a coronavirus vaccine in the coming weeks will be Mississippi health care workers, but at least one major hospital in the Magnolia State will not require its staff to take it at this point - citing concerns over the supply and safety of the vaccine.

“We will not make it mandatory, it will not be a requirement, [but] we will make it available for people to take,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs at UMMC.

Woodward said they made that decision for two primary reasons: they likely won’t have enough doses for all employees and students, and not enough is known about its safety.

Law professor Matt Steffey said UMMC’s decision is backed up by a law passed earlier this year by Mississippi legislators that offers immunity protection for health care workers who treat people for COVID-19.

Senate Bill 3049 shields hospitals from lawsuits except in circumstances of malice or willful and intentional misconduct.

“I think the health care providers enjoy broader immunity. I think there’s good reason for that, not to be second guessed about COVID-related outcomes,” Steffey said. “That said, a smart lawyer can try to poke a hole in any immunity shield.”

A robust vaccine policy would also help that defense, Steffey said.

While healthcare workers in many hospitals, including UMMC, are required to take the flu vaccine each year, Steffey said mandating a vaccine for COVID-19 is a bit premature at this point.

“We don’t have an approved vaccine yet. And I would be surprised if guidance proceeded approval. Right, it would be odd to say this is what we suggest, for a drug, a vaccine that hasn’t been approved by the FDA,” Steffey said.

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