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CMS COVID-19 Vaccination for Healthcare Staff Rule FAQs

Updated April 11, 2022

*Important Update to CMS COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement*

On January 13, 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the temporary hold on the CMS Omnibus COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination Interim Final Rule, requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated.

This is new information, and we are currently learning more.

As more information becomes available, we will communicate next steps.

Learn more here: https://bit.ly/3tG0b9p

What is the CMS rule requiring COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare workers?

On November 5, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an interim final rule that requires COVID-19 vaccination of eligible staff at healthcare facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. This regulation and its requirements apply to providers and suppliers regulated under the CMS Conditions of Participation (CoPs) and includes hospitals, such as Phelps Health.

Why is CMS issuing this rule?

Ensuring safety and protection from COVID-19 for anyone seeking care is the utmost priority. Given the rapidly evolving public health emergency, the increasing presence of the COVID-19 Delta variant and the current instability within the healthcare system, CMS finds good cause to issue an emergency regulation, allowing the agency to take immediate action to protect the health and safety of residents, clients, patients and staff.

What will happen if Phelps Health does not comply with the CMS rule?

We must remain compliant with these new CMS regulations, just as we do with all CMS regulations that allow us to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs. Failure to comply with these new regulations would be devastating to the patients we serve, as well as our employees and organization.

If we are not compliant, we will lose our Medicare and Medicaid funding, and ultimately, we would not likely be able to sustain our business and keep our doors open. Even more important is 64% of our patients (those with Medicare or Medicaid) would not be able to get covered care at Phelps Health.

What is the deadline for Phelps Health employees to be vaccinated?

Unvaccinated healthcare staff must receive their first COVID-19 dose of a primary series (either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines) or a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine (Johnson & Johnson – Janssen), or they must provide documentation of an exemption to Phelps Health Occupational Health and Wellness by February 14. Employees who have already been vaccinated elsewhere (not at Phelps Health) should provide proof of vaccination to Occupational Health and Wellness by February 14.

Unvaccinated staff – except for those who have been granted exemptions – must be fully vaccinated by March 15. This means that all employees must have two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or employees must provide documentation to Phelps Health Occupational Health and Wellness of a new exemption since the first shot was given.

*Please note: Staff who have had two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine by March 15 are considered to have met the requirements for this CMS rule, even if they have not yet completed the 14-day waiting period following the second shot of Pfizer or Moderna or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine.

Who must be vaccinated?

All employees, licensed practitioners, students, trainees, volunteers, contract employees, or other individuals who provide care, treatment or other services for Phelps Health or its patients are required to receive the COVID-19 vaccination or provide exemption documentation for review. Physicians admitting and/or treating patients in-person within Phelps Health also are subject to this rule.

Who is exempt from the vaccine mandate?

  • Employees who work remotely 100% of the time (do not come to the hospital for any reason)
    • Employees who attend meetings in person – even infrequently – are not considered 100% remote and, therefore, not exempt.
  • Individuals who have clinical contraindications per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that are documented by a physician or provider:
    • Immediate allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine
    • Known allergy to COVID-19 vaccine or component
    • Prior adverse event to COVID-19 vaccine
    • Pregnancy reasons (accepted from the OB physician only)
    • Other (medical contraindication form)
  • Individuals with sincerely held religious beliefs, practice or observance against COVID-19 vaccination (religious exemption form)

If I am pregnant or breastfeeding, can I get a medical exemption?

The current data on COVID-19 vaccines supports the safety of the vaccine, including in the context of fertility, pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

All major OB/GYN associations (American College of Obstetricians Gynecologists, American Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and American Society of Reproductive Medicine) along with the CDC recommend the vaccine. 

The physicians and midwives at Phelps Health agree with this recommendation, but also respect employees’ personal choice whether or not to vaccinate. 

Preconception, pregnancy and lactation are NOT medical contraindications to the vaccine. For this reason, a medical exemption letter cannot be provided based on pregnancy or lactation alone.

If I receive a medical or religious exemption, do I have to wear a mask?

Yes. Staff who are not fully vaccinated will be required to wear a disposable mask at all times, per CMS guidelines.

What happens if my COVID-19 vaccine exemption is declined?

Staff who are not vaccinated without an approved exemption will be suspended, pending appropriate vaccination documentation, allowed to resign or terminated. Employees who resign appropriately can receive their Paid Days Off (PDO)/ Special Sick Leave (SSL).

Can I get an exemption if I show that I have COVID-19 antibodies?

No. Staff who have previously had COVID-19 are not exempt from these vaccination requirements. Available evidence indicates that COVID-19 vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity alone and that vaccines, even after prior infection, help prevent reinfections. The CDC recommends that all people ages 5 and older be vaccinated, regardless of their history of symptomatic or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Which vaccine can I get?

Three COVID-19 vaccines have been approved in the United States: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen).

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has received full approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for those ages 16 and older. The Pfizer vaccine also is approved for emergency use for those ages 5-15.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccines have received approval for emergency use for those ages 18 and older.

Learn more about the different COVID-19 vaccines available.

What if I have to delay my COVID-19 vaccination and cannot meet the deadlines?

In some cases, delaying the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine may be appropriate. Please contact Occupational Health and Wellness for further instructions if one of the following reasons for delay exist:

  • Employee was positive for COVID-19 and received monoclonal antibodies
  • Employee was positive for COVID-19 and received convalescent plasma
  • Employee is currently positive for COVID-19 and on isolation
  • Employee has been diagnosed with an acute illness secondary to COVID-19

To request to delay your COVID-19 vaccine, complete this form.

Do I need to get third doses or booster shots to be compliant?

Being fully vaccinated does not include boosters or third doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

If I’m already vaccinated, can I submit my COVID-19 vaccination card as proof?

Yes. COVID-19 vaccine cards are being accepted as documentation if the following information is on the card: date of administration, brand and lot number of the vaccine and location/facility that provided the vaccine administration.

Instead of being vaccinated, can I get weekly tests?

No, the CMS rule does not allow for routine testing as an alternative. This regulation will not eliminate the requirement for routine testing on the Transitional Care Facility (TCF) unit.

What if the vaccine side effects cause me to miss work?

If you have side effects or do not feel well after getting a COVID-19 vaccine and cannot return to work, you may use SSL for time missed.

Where can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Phelps Health employees should contact Occupational Health and Wellness about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Employees who are vaccinated elsewhere (not at Phelps Health) should provide proof of vaccination to Occupational Health and Wellness by December 6.

Who can I contact if I have questions about the policy and forms regarding the COVID-19 vaccination requirements?

If staff have questions specific to COVID-19 vaccine information, contact Phelps Health Occupational Health and Wellness. For questions regarding religious exemptions, call Keri Heavin, Thad Leach or Thomas Rye.

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