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St. Luke's will now require all employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine

St. Luke's is the third major Idaho healthcare provider to announce on Thursday that all employees are required to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

BOISE, Idaho — Following similar announcements from two of Idaho's largest healthcare providers, St. Luke's Health System said on Thursday that it will soon require all employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The CEO and president of St. Luke's Health System, Chris Roth, told employees that adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the company's list of required vaccinations is "furthering its commitment to protect its patients, staff and the community."

All employees, providers, contractors, students and volunteers have until Sept. 1, 2021, to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

St. Luke's also created an exemption process for those who do not want to get vaccinated due to medical or religious reasons.

On Friday, St. Luke's told KTVB that a strong religious belief can pass as an exemption. For a medical exemption, it will be the same process as other required vaccines at the hospital, such as the flu shot. A group of clinicians would approve or deny any filed exemptions.

Roth said in a letter to the staff that the health system will provide information and resources about the COVID-19 vaccines to anyone who may still have questions about them.

“The decision to receive the vaccine can be difficult for some and I believe it is important that team members who have not yet received the vaccine are able to ask questions and gather all the information they need,” he said.

In a release, officials said due to the Gem State's low vaccination rate, the rise of the delta variant of COVID-19 and schools and sporting events returning to 100% capacity this fall, leaders of the healthcare provider decided now was the time to put in place the restriction.

Dr. Jim Souza, the Chief Physician Executive for St. Luke's, said in a statement that vaccines have proven to be effective at preventing death and serious illness.

"With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States alone, the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be extremely safe and effective, driving down positive cases and hospitalizations," he said.

St. Luke's said about 80% of its staff is already vaccinated, but that number includes employees from doctors to custodians. Dr. Souza said the closer a staff member works with patients, the more likely they are to be vaccinated.

He added that it isn't a mere coincidence that attributed to the trend with an employee's experience with COVID-19 patients.

"The more direct exposure you've had to the illness, suffering and death that is continuing to happen with this infection, the higher, in general, the vaccine numbers," Souza said.

Since Idaho is an at-will employment state, legal experts say all employers can legally require their staff to get vaccinated.

St. Luke's Health System is Idaho's largest employer, with more than 14,000 employees.

On Thursday, Trinity Health, the healthcare system that Saint Alphonsus is a part of, announced that all staff members have until Sept. 21, 2021, to get vaccinated or file an exemption based on religious or medical grounds, which would still need approval.

Primary Health Medical Group also announced on Thursday that its employees will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The deadline to get vaccinated is Sept. 9, 2021.

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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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