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Houston hospital will require COVID-19 vaccines for employees

Get the COVID-19 vaccine or lose your job. That’s the position one Houston hospital is taking as they try to keep patients as safe as possible.

HOUSTON — On Wednesday, Houston Methodist announced its plan to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all employees.

Carole Hackett, senior vice president and chief human resource officer with Houston Methodist, said 84 percent of staff is already vaccinated with a goal of vaccines for all by June.

“Patient safety is key,” Hackett said. “That is our number one focus, and in order to keep our patients safe, our employees must be vaccinated.”

There are exceptions; people with religious or medical concerns can submit those for review. But for all others, “we do have progressive discipline that could lead to termination," Hackett said.

KHOU 11 asked attorney and KHOU 11 legal analyst Carmen Roe if it is legal for an employer to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Well, yes and no,” Roe explained.

Roe believes that if the employer is a medical facility or first responder then, “Yes, a mandatory vaccine is going to be appropriate as long as they adhere to the American with disabilities act as well as title seven (medical and religious exemptions).”

But can someone who simply doesn’t want to get the vaccine be fired because of that?

“It is a case of first impression,” Roe said. “It is an issue that’s never been reviewed before.”

This is unchartered territory for the court system and an issue that is likely to come up as businesses across the country try to navigate the pandemic.

“There are companies all over Texas that I know about that are trying to fashion language and to make this a mandatory vaccination world," Hackett said. "Houston Methodist is the first one, but I think there are plenty to follow suit, and I think this is going to be something that’s going to be a wave across Texas in the coming months.”

The flu vaccine is already mandated at Houston Methodist, and many hospitals and medical facilities across the county. However, Roe believes that can’t be used as precedent here.

“The simplest reason is that this (COVID vaccine) isn't FDA approved. We are still in the trial period," Hackett said.

The FDA has granted Emergency Use Authorization. It's one reason Roe expects some employees to push back if employers mandate the vaccine.

“My suggestion would be don’t take legal advice from employer. Contact an attorney," Roe said.

Houston Methodist said they hope it doesn’t come to that and will work to educate any reluctant employee on the facts of the COVID-19 vaccine, However, they are prepared in case an employee still refuses it for non-protected legal reasons.

“We have vetted this through all of our lawyers and we’ve been doing this with the flu vaccine for years. So we are confident that we are doing the right thing,” Hackett said.