Mercy Hospital employees mandated to vaccinate, local pandemic data similar to 2020

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
A sign directs drivers across the Mercy Hospital Ardmore parking lot Thursday, July 8, 2021. The hospital announced this week that employees will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30.

Mercy Hospital is among the latest hospital systems to begin requiring COVID-19 vaccinations from employees as cases of the disease spread at a faster rate locally and across the country. Employees will have to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 as Carter County sees the disease spread at rates similar to one year ago. 

“As health care leaders in our communities, it is important we set the standard to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. William Sistrunk, an infectious disease specialist with Mercy Hospital, in a Wednesday statement. “Vaccination is our best defense against the virus and already has provided many of our co-workers with the protection they need to care for our patients.” 

Mercy is among nearly two dozen other health care organizations across the country implementing similar measures and has facilities in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. Hospitals in Houston and Indiana have received some pushback for requiring employees to receive the vaccines approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

According to USA Today, however, little fanfare has greeted the dozens of hospitals that have quietly begun following the lead of Houston Methodist hospital. Many predict that if the FDA gives full approval to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines soon, as expected, there could be a tsunami of hospitals signing on.  

According to Wednesday’s statement from Mercy Hospital, the new requirement comes as COVID-19 cases increase in communities they serve. 

“More than 95% of recent hospitalizations across the U.S. are people who aren’t vaccinated. The data is clear. Vaccination is key to saving lives,” said Dr. John Mohart, senior vice president of clinical services at Mercy Hospital. 

Mercy Hospital Ardmore on Thursday was caring for seven patients with COVID-19, according to Mercy spokesperson Meredith Huggins.  

COVID-19 hospitalizations at Mercy Hospital Ardmore typically remained fewer than 10 through the summer months of 2020 before they rose sharply in October and November. At the peak of the pandemic in January, the Ardmore hospital was caring for over 60 COVID-19 patients. 

Carter County infection rates slowed from an 11-week high last week but continue to follow a trend similar to one year ago, according to state health department data compiled by The Ardmoreite. The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Thursday reported 57 active cases of the disease in Carter County, down from 74 the week prior. 

The seven-day average of new daily cases in the county also fell slightly over the week from 8.3 to 5.3. The weekly fluctuations in the seven-day average back to mid-April – as low as 1 and as high as 8.3 – follow trends similar to data collected between July and October 2020. 

According to the OSDH Weekly Epidemiological Report ending July 3, Oklahoma currently ranks ninth in the nation for cumulative incidence of newly reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in the last seven days.