Chief Medical Officer Explains What’s Happening to Require COVID-19 Vaccines at Work: NPR

Scott Simon speaks with Dr. Patrick Brennan, Penn Medicine’s chief medical officer, about the vaccine requirement passed for all employees in May.


A large number of American companies are now requiring their employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Google and Facebook, Adobe and VMware are among the technology companies. New York City has announced that all city employees will need an injection or undergo weekly testing. The University of Pennsylvania Health System announced in May that all of its employees will be required to be vaccinated by September 1.

Dr. Patrick Brennan is Penn Medicine’s Chief Medical Officer and joins us now. Thank you very much for being with us.

PATRICK BRENNAN: With pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: I have to ask, is there an or else in this warrant? Will you fire people who don’t comply?

BRENNAN: Well, there will be consequences for sure. It is not our intention to fire people. What we intend to do is get everyone vaccinated so that our workplace, our staff and our patients are as safe as possible. But there will be consequences.

SIMON: Looks like I’d rather not, but yeah. If we have to let someone go because they won’t be vaccinated, that’s what we’ll do.

BRENNAN: That’s right. It’s true.

SIMON: You’ll be prosecuted, won’t you?

BRENNAN: Maybe. We are prepared for this consequence.

SIMON: And you include office workers, right? Not just medical staff.

BRENNAN: Yeah. We do. We try to enforce the policy as fairly as possible. And while we still have people working remotely, many people are now coming into the office, at least some of the time. And we don’t know when more may be called, so we expect everyone to be vaccinated.

SIMON: Have there been any complaints?

BRENNAN: Of course, of course. We got a lot more support than we got complaints – a lot of support from outside the organization. And when we started that, most people were already vaccinated. But there are pockets of complaints.

SIMON: Seventy percent of your staff have been vaccinated.

BRENNAN: Seventy percent is where we were when we started the process in May. We believe that approximately 95% of our physicians are currently vaccinated.

SIMON: But 5% aren’t.

BRENNAN: No, but they still have time. And we’re – you know, we’re working on the verification process. We believe they will all be vaccinated.

SIMON: Do you have any religious exemptions?

BRENNAN: We allow religious and medical exemptions. There are not many medical exemptions that will qualify, but there are also religious exemptions. And we have, I think, a pretty rigorous process for getting the exemptions and then reviewing them fairly.

SIMON: Dr. Brennan, I wonder if you learned anything at Penn Medicine that other businesses and corporations and, for that matter, small businesses could learn from.

BRENNAN: We’ve learned a lot about the support we have within the organization. We have learned that issues of risk and respect are a two-sided coin. While we listen to people, there is certainly respect for colleagues and for patients who want the people they associate with to be vaccinated as well.

And we try to respect the concerns of communities of color about the historical mistreatment they have experienced in health care systems. And I don’t see the vaccine as being like those previous episodes, but we try to be sensitive to those. We don’t want to see even more disparity created by a vaccination process that unfairly favors those with privilege. But not everyone will be comfortable with the message, so we need to explain why it’s necessary.

And you really need a ground game. You really need to have information in the hands of managers, and managers need to work directly with their staff to get them to provide information about whether they’ve been vaccinated, you know, giving that information to the organization so she can check it out, then reach out to people who haven’t responded yet. These are some of the key lessons we learned.

SIMON: Dr. Patrick Brennan is Chief Medical Officer of Penn Medicine. Thank you very much for being with us, sir.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Scott.

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