WASHINGTON - As the number of virus cases and hospitalizations surge in the U.S., fueled by the fast-spreading delta variant and many unvaccinated Americans, dozens of major medical groups called on health care and long-term care employers to require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
A joint statement issued Monday was signed by 56 groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Nursing, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians and the American Pharmacists Association.
It says mandatory COVID-19 vaccination is "the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being."
"Because of highly contagious variants, including the Delta variant, and significant numbers of unvaccinated people, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising throughout the United States," the wrote in the joint statement. "Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures."
The statement noted that many health care and long-term care organizations already require vaccinations for influenza, hepatitis B, and pertussis.
"Unfortunately, many health care and long-term care personnel remain unvaccinated (against COVID-19). As we move towards full FDA approval of the currently available vaccines, all health care workers should get vaccinated for their own health, and to protect their colleagues, families, residents of long-term care facilities and patients," the statement reads.
"This is especially necessary to protect those who are vulnerable, including unvaccinated children and the immunocompromised," it continued.
FILE - Health care workers enter a COVID-19 patient room in the COVID ICU at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California, on July 21, 2021. (Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
Less than 9% of U.S. hospitals have required employees to get vaccinated, Axios reported, citing the American Hospital Association. Last week, the medical organization shared its own statement calling on mandatory vaccinations for health care workers.
More than 163 million people, or 49.1% of the total U.S. population, are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those eligible for the vaccine, aged 12 and over, the figure rises to 57.4%.
Lagging vaccination rates among nursing home staff have been linked to a national increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths at senior facilities. Nationally about 59% of nursing home staff have gotten their shots, about the same as the overall percentage of fully vaccinated adults — but significantly lower than the roughly 80% of residents who are vaccinated, according to Medicare. And some states have much lower vaccination rates of around 40%.
Health officials, including the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, have stressed that soaring virus cases over the past few weeks are being fueled by unvaccinated people and the fast spread of the delta variant.
"We’re going in the wrong direction," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday on CNN’s "State of the Union," describing himself as "very frustrated."
"This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated," Fauci added.
Fauci, who also serves as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, also said recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is "under active consideration" by the government’s leading public health officials. Also, he said booster shots may be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated.
He noted that some local jurisdictions where infection rates are surging, such as Los Angeles County, are already calling on individuals to wear masks in indoor public spaces regardless of vaccination status. Fauci said those local rules are compatible with the CDC recommendation that the vaccinated do not need to wear masks in public.
He also praised Republicans, including Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, and the second-ranking House leader, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, for encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated. Their states have among the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
"What I would really like to see is more and more of the leaders in those areas that are not vaccinating to get out and speak out and encourage people to get vaccinated," Fauci said.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.