The University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) will require all employees and clinical staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by no later than Sept. 1, 2021. The decision, announced May 19, 2021, places UPHS among the first health systems and as the nation’s largest to date to mandate the vaccination for all its employees. UPHS is part of Penn Medicine, which also includes the Perelman School of Medicine.
“As an institution grounded in the science and art of healthcare, we believe it is imperative for Penn Medicine to take the lead in requiring employee vaccinations to protect our patients and staff and to set an example to the broader community as we work together to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” said UPHS CEO Kevin B. Mahoney.
At this time, all employees and clinical staff have been offered the vaccine, and nearly 70 percent – more than 33,000 people – are now fully vaccinated. The approximately 11,000 employees who have not yet been vaccinated must receive two doses of a two-dose vaccine or a single-dose vaccine two weeks prior to Sept. 1. Effective July 1, all new hires must provide evidence of vaccination or complete vaccination two weeks prior to beginning work.
UPHS joins the first health system in the U.S. to mandate vaccinations, Houston Methodist, which in April 2021 announced it would require its 26,000 employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by June.
In the United States, COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) have received Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Scientific discoveries on mRNA biology made more than 15 years ago by Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, a professor of Infectious Diseases in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, and Katalin Karikó, PhD, an adjunct associate professor at Penn and a senior vice president at BioNTech, helped form foundational technology used in both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“The evidence is clear that COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be very safe and highly effective at preventing transmission, hospitalizations, and death from the virus,” said Patrick J. Brennan, MD, chief medical officer and senior vice president of UPHS. “And the transformational mRNA technology discoveries at Penn that laid a foundation for the first approved vaccines further buoys our confidence in the science.”
Penn Medicine staff who are not able to be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons will be required to apply for an exemption, similar to the influenza vaccine policy and process UPHS has had in place for more than a decade. Employees can continue to receive vaccinations at UPHS hospitals and other sites, and also have the option to receive vaccinations outside the health system and provide documentation.
To support this new policy, education sessions on the vaccine and the opportunity to have questions about the vaccine answered by Penn Medicine physicians, nurses, and pharmacists will also be available throughout the summer for employees.
In all, Penn Medicine has administered more than 500,000 total doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to staff, patients, and people in the community, in sites ranging from its hospitals, to a theater converted to a vaccination site, to a series of mobile clinics in churches, recreation centers, schools, and even a professional hockey game.