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All Primary Health employees required to get COVID-19 vaccine

"Our highest priority is to keep our clinics safe for all our patients and our employees," Dr. David Peterman wrote in a letter to staff.

BOISE, Idaho — Primary Health Medical Group announced Thursday that it is requiring all employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination, citing the safety of patients and other staff members. 

Primary Health employees must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 no later than Sept. 9, 2021, the medical group says. Limited medical exemptions to the policy will be considered based on the FDA’s vaccine contraindications list, the CEO of Primary Health said, while religious exemptions "may be considered."

"We understand the enormity of this decision and are putting the mandate in place based on the current medical information which has overwhelmingly shown the effectiveness of the vaccines and the rare occurrence of very few serious side effects," Dr. David Peterman wrote in a letter to staff. "Our highest priority is to keep our clinics safe for all our patients and our employees."

Trinity Health, which Idaho's Saint Alphonsus is a part of, and St. Luke's Health System also made similar announcements requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccines. 

Primary Health currently has about 640 employees across Idaho, 78% of whom are already vaccinated.

More than 2,100 Idahoans died of coronavirus since the pandemic reached the state in March 2020, and scores more were sickened. 

Peterman said that the upcoming fall and winter months will bring thousands of patients with all types of viral illnesses to Primary Health clinics, and that schools will likely reopen for the fall with most if not all of the children who attend still unvaccinated for COVID-19.

"We cannot go through another year like last where 30% of our employees at times were out with illness and clinics had to be closed. We need to be available for our patients," he wrote.

The release came the same day that Saint Alphonsus' owner Trinity Health announced that the vaccine will be required for all staff, contractors, and anyone else "conducting business in its health care facilities." Saint Alphonsus employees have until November to submit proof that they have gotten vaccinated.

Primary Health will be requiring its staff to get their first dose by Aug. 5, 2021, with the second dose coming by Sept. 9. Those receiving a single-dose vaccine will be required to have it by Aug. 5, 2021. 

Peterman spoke with The 208 on Thursday and said this decision was a long time coming.

"We have a group of physicians that looks at the evidence then makes a recommendation and then we follow as policy, we do that with influenza vaccines," he said, "we do that with other vaccines, like hepatitis and I am prepared for us to do that with COVID vaccine, and if that means that an employee wants to work somewhere else, then I support that."

Peterman explained that there was enough data showing the vaccines' effectiveness and now is the time to make getting the COVID-19 vaccine a requirement.

About 130 of the staff members of Primary Health are unvaccinated. Peterman said, "This is a diverse group with various thoughts, I'm sure there is a certain group that is hesitant but hopefully this would push them to getting vaccinated."

He said requiring all employees to get vaccinated allows him to confidently tell his patients and staff members that Primary Health is a safe place to work at.

"If some employees determine that they just don't want to be vaccinated and they don't have an exemption, then we will have to have them work somewhere else," he said. "It's as simple as that."

The requirement applies to those who have already contracted COVID-19 as well as those who have not.

Peterman added that concerns about the growing delta variant of the coronavirus and the upcoming school year influenced the decision.

"We are seeing hospitals and other medical clinics also all across the country in the last four weeks have begun mandating vaccinations and as I saw that and frankly, I began to see the school calendar, and I saw particularly what happened in Israel with children and the delta variant, I then said we need to do this now," he said. "If some of those kids are asymptomatic with the delta variant, they will give it to those who are unvaccinated and then we are going to see hospitalizations again and that's a concern."

The medical group has had a vaccination policy for its employees in place for ten years, and staff members are required to get the influenza vaccine every year. Peterman said the COVID-19 vaccine shouldn't be treated any differently.

"Every employee at PHMG has done an outstanding job over the past eighteen months. I cannot express enough how proud I am to be associated with all of you. You have literally saved thousands of lives," Peterman wrote. "Taking the next step to vaccinate all our employees will keep us on the path of providing quality care to all our patients in a safe, healthy environment."

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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