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Opinion: A vaccine mandate is not the right approach for Centura Health, for now

When confronting the same problem in different contexts, one solution does not fit all, Centura Health's CEO says

From the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Colorado on March 5, 2020, at Centura’s St. Anthony Summit Hospital in Frisco, our 21,000 incredible caregivers have made tremendous personal and professional sacrifices to be there when our communities needed us most. Our team has worked diligently, and nonstop, over the last 18 months, through the many waves, including this latest increase in infections with the delta variant.

Peter D. Banko, President and CEO of Centura Health

We led a statewide campaign to encourage you – our neighbors – to mask, socially distance, wash your hands, and get vaccinated. Centura was the only health system to partner with the Colorado government, staffing three of the state’s mass vaccination sites, and administering more than 500,000 shots to date. 

COVID-19 infections rates – in our communities and across the Centura team – only started to drop and become far more manageable when vaccinations became readily available to all adults.

Vaccines do not remove all risk. But if you study the data, getting vaccinated is a “no brainer.” It nearly eliminates any possibility of severe illness and death. It greatly reduces the risk of getting sick at all. If you do experience a breakthrough infection, the odds are it will be a mild case.

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Today, more than 80% of our caregivers at Centura have chosen to be vaccinated. As states and organizations are faced with a decision whether or not to mandate vaccinations, Centura has not implemented a vaccine mandate. 

While so many decisions seem to be straightforward, this one – especially when dealing with all the unknowns in a new pandemic – requires intently listening to and honoring the “noise.” Based on national surveys, nearly 80% of those who are unvaccinated are “very unlikely” to ever get vaccinated. In June 2021, we provided a $500 appreciation bonus for vaccination to all employees. That incentive increased our vaccination rate by just 2%.

Misinformation and disinformation on social media are fueling confusion and uncertainty. Associates who remain unvaccinated today, especially those who are younger, have less formal education, and lower incomes, tell us they believe their risks of disease are less than their risk of side effects with the vaccine; many are also concerned about the long-term effects for which data are not yet available.

We are combatting decades of medical racism in improving vaccination rates in communities of color. Some of my co-workers have valid, documented medical and/or religious concerns. And some simply don’t want their bosses dictating what they should do with their bodies.

Mandating vaccination comes with all of the best intentions to improve public health and safety; however, when mandates are perceived to be unreasonable, ineffective, or otherwise inappropriate, they are felt to be coercive. I think of trying to get my daughter to stop wearing her pink tutu and cowgirl boots to church. A mandate with good intentions, but very limited effectiveness for me.

What happens when someone tries to make you do something you don’t want to do, or tries to force you to do what they want?  The answer is always the same: you resist.

One size doesn’t fit all when dealing with the same problem in different contexts. Humans are social creatures and strategies must consider all aspects of health and well-being. It is prudent to allow communities and organizations to experiment and find the best ways to provide the best protection for all.

Centura will continue to make vaccines easily and readily available. Through individual and team conversations, we will provide information and learning opportunities for our co-workers. We will be more aggressive with our vaccine advocacy and outreach efforts and implement further incentive programs. And, as we have done since the very beginning, we will use all available measures, including vaccination, masking, and testing to keep our caregivers, patients, and visitors safe. Our processes will be continuously optimized and strengthened, particularly in settings with the most vulnerable populations.

Let me be clear: Centura is not organizationally opposed to vaccine mandates. As the CEO, I’m not personally opposed to mandates. Mandates are the right decision for some organizations, but this current path – to not mandate at this present time – is the right choice for Centura today. As with any good experiment, the hypothesis may not prove itself out, and different conclusions may be drawn. You may even see us issue our own vaccine mandate when the vaccines receive formal FDA approval. 

As the pandemic continues to unfold, our north star remains unchanged. Our healing ministry will continue to act based on the safety and wholeness of our incredible people, the communities we serve, and our unique situation. Today, we are simply choosing a different way to lead through, and accelerate out of, this global public health and economic crisis.

Peter D. Banko is President and CEO of Centura Health.

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The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to

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