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Moderna Covid-19 vaccine vials sit on top of a sign during a vaccination clinic for residents of zip code 80010 and existing refugee patients at Ardas Family Medicine in The Mango House in Aurora, Colorado on Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Eli Imadali, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Employees at Colorado hospitals and other health care facilities will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 under an emergency rule adopted Monday night by the state’s Board of Heath at the behest of Gov. Jared Polis

The rule, enacted after a contentious hearing, requires health care workers at thousands of facilities to get their first dose of vaccine no later than Sept. 30, though state regulators indicated they will be lenient about the deadline.

The panel will meet in October to finalize the rule, the latest effort by the state to battle a spike in coronavirus cases caused by an explosion of the more contagious delta variant across the nation. Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are at their highest level since January and there are no signs of the surge abating. 

The rule applies to all employees at the following facilities:

  • General hospitals
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Community clinics
  • Rehabilitation hospitals
  • Convalescent centers
  • Community mental health centers
  • Acute treatment units
  • Facilities for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Hospice care
  • Assisted living residences
  • Dialysis treatment clinics
  • Ambulatory surgical centers
  • Birthing centers
  • Home care agencies

About 3,800 facilities will be affected by the policy.

The state estimates that approximately 30% of the health care workforce in the facilities and agencies that will be subject to the new rule remain unvaccinated. 

“With the rise in the delta variant, ensuring that all workers in licensed healthcare facilities are vaccinated is one of the most effective means the state can take to protect the public health, safety and welfare of all Coloradans and end this ongoing pandemic,” the state Health Department said in a news release. 

Randy Kuykendall, director of the Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, emphasized that the rule will be discussed further and possibly tweaked by the Board of Health in the coming weeks.

Kuykendall also pointed out that health care workers’ licensure will not be affected by the rule should they decide not to comply. The Colorado Hospital Association is among the host of health care groups that support the rule.

Kuykendall said the Board of Health has already issued regulations around flu shots for medical workers at the facilities affected by the new COVID vaccine rule. “This isn’t really totally uncharted territory for us.”

Workers can opt out of the new mandate for health or religious reasons. Individual facilities will be allowed to determine what religious reasons qualify an individual to opt out of getting vaccinated. If someone wants to opt out for health reasons, they will have to get a sign-off from a medical professional saying that they can’t be inoculated.

“The facilities will ultimately have to ensure compliance,” said Anne Strawbridge, policy and regulation services manager at CDPHE.

The state health department said it does not have authority over individual health care practitioners or staff, nor does it oversee other settings where patients seek medical care including primary care offices and urgent care locations.

If a facility doesn’t comply, state regulators will work with them to correct the situation. Facility licensure penalties are possible, but very unlikely.

On Aug. 17, Polis asked the Board of Health to enact the mandate. 

“These are settings in which we have a responsibility to keep people safe who have little choice about their presence there,” Polis wrote in a letter to the board. “It’s critical that all personnel who are capable of bringing the deadly virus into facilities where our vulnerable populations are in their custody be fully vaccinated in order to save lives. The panel voted on the new requirement after about an hour of public testimony, most of it in opposition.”

Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine has been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been granted emergency use approval. 

The vaccines have been proven to reduce severe cases of COVID-19 and are said by health care officials to be the best form of protection against the disease.

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated...