Northern Light Health will require its staff members to be vaccinated against COVID-19 vaccine once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approves one of the vaccines, the Brewer-based health system said Monday.
Though the requirement depends on further action by the FDA, the action means one of the state’s largest employers, with 10 hospitals scattered across the state, will require vaccines as employers — including those in health care — grapple with whether to require that their employees be vaccinated.
With few exceptions, vaccination will be required within six weeks of full FDA approval, and will be a condition of employment, the health system said.
The health system had about 12,000 employees in 2019.
Northern Light’s announcement on Monday came days after Millinocket Regional Hospital became the first hospital to announce on Friday that it will require the vaccination once the FDA fully approves a vaccine. Like Northern Light’s, that hospital’s policy will require that staff get vaccinated within six weeks of the FDA’s full approval.
Northern Light’s policy comes as the delta variant of the virus spreads across the U.S. and cases rise in Maine. The delta variant accounted for more than 60 percent of Maine virus samples tested last month, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
As the delta variant rapidly spreads across the United States, the FDA is under growing pressure to fully approve one of the vaccines, a move that experts say will allow employers, schools and government agencies a firmer foundation for requiring vaccinations.
Experts say full approval will likely come within the next few months.
The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines currently have emergency authorization from the FDA. That form of authorization, while arduous, takes less time than general approval.
The decision to mandate vaccines in the future was not taken lightly, but is being done to reduce risk across Maine, said Northern Light President Tim Dentry.
“Getting vaccinated is the single most important and responsible step each of us can take,” Dentry said.
About 20 percent of Northern Light employees were unvaccinated as of July 19, according to the health system.