Move for some health care systems to require COVID-19 vaccine comes in midst of nurse shortage

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Hospitals across the state have announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for all employees.

One veteran nurse said she understands opposition to requiring the shot, but believes it’s best for everyone’s safety.

“I respect those who say it’s against their rights, I respect that belief and their choice,” said Rachel Cozort, who has been a nurse since 1982 and voluntarily got the vaccine. “But I feel like just for the safety of them and their patients, and everyone around them, it’s not a bad idea.”

The move to require the COVID-19 vaccine comes in the middle of a nursing shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be 176,000 RN openings each year through 2029.

Some people in the health care field believe mandating the vaccine could contribute to the nursing shortage.

“It may have the potential,” said Cozort, who also teaches the next generation of nurses at a North Carolina-based college.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) supports mandating the vaccine for nurses and other healthcare workers. In a letter announcing its stance, the ANA wrote, “Nurses have a professional and ethical obligation to model the same standards they provide to prescribe to patients.”

But Cozort said some of her nursing students feel their choice is being taken from them.

“I think some are concerned that we don’t know enough about the vaccine yet and the fact that they feel like it’s their bodies and their decision on what they want to do,” she said.

Nurses and all other employees working within Duke Health, UNC Health, and several other health care systems across the state will have until the fall to choose between getting the COVID-19 vaccine or losing their jobs.

“I think that’s another personal decision,” Cozort said. “You’ve got to chose what you want to do and if you love nursing and want to stay in it, then take the vaccine.”

In a statement, Dr. Thomas Owens, senior vice president of Duke University Health System said:

“Our highest objective is the health of our patients, their loved ones, our employees and our community, and this is what motivated the decision to require staff to receive COVID vaccinations. Most of our staff members have already been vaccinated, and we are confident that the remainder will comply with the new requirement. We are not concerned about potential staffing shortages due to the policy.”