Philly Pushes Back COVID Vaccine Deadline in Health Care, Higher Ed

“My hope is that this additional time will help to get all of these workers over the last hurdles to accepting vaccination,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said

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Philadelphia is pushing back the deadline by which people in the health care and higher education fields must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Instead of being fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, as was originally announced in August, health care staff in hospitals and long-term care facilities, as well as staff, faculty and students at colleges and universities will instead need to have at least one vaccine dose by Oct. 15 and be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15.

People without approved exemptions who don’t have a first dose by next Friday and their second dose by Nov. 15 “would be out of compliance and could not work or study in those settings,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said.

All other health care workers will have until Oct. 22 to get at least one dose and until Nov. 22 to get fully vaccinated.

“My hope is that this additional time will help to get all of these workers over the last hurdles to accepting vaccination,” Bettigole said.

Bettigole said deadline extension was prompted by various groups who voiced concerns about being able to get people fully vaccinated by the original Oct. 15 date. Home and behavioral health providers, whose staff have lower vaccination rates, particularly expressed concerns, she said. Bettigole added that the deadline will not be extended again.

The vaccination requirement will be waived for those with medical or religious exemptions, though exempted health care workers will need to submit to antigen or PCR testing twice per week, Bettigole said in August.

Colleges and universities will need to offer exempted individuals a PCR test once a week or an antigen test twice a week, Bettigole added. Antigen tests can offer faster results, but are less accurate than PCR tests.

At schools with a vaccination rate of 90% or higher, exempted individuals may instead be asked to double mask and maintain six feet of social distancing while at indoor public spaces, the health secretary said. When feasible, colleges and universities may offer a virtual option instead of in-person attendance.

The mandates followed the recommendations of the Philadelphia Board of Health, which had concerns about rising infections among college students.

Bettigole also asserted in August that the Philadelphia Board of Health has the authority to mandate vaccines at universities, and she pointed out that vaccine mandates are already common, like when public schools require that children be immunized for various other diseases.

“We’ve seen from other places that have implemented vaccine mandates that they work, that workers do step up and get their vaccines despite lots of anxiety before the deadlines,” Bettigole said Wednesday.

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