GREAT FALLS — Benefis Health System in Great Falls said several weeks ago that the COVID vaccine will be mandatory for all employees. John Goodnow, the CEO of Benefis, said in a company-wide email that the process for mandatory vaccinations will begin in May. Employees can request deferrals for medical and religious reasons.
Several people stood outside along 10th Avenue South on Saturday to protest the policy, many holding signs expressing their disapproval. Benefis declined to comment on the protest, noting that none of the protesters are employees.
Goodnow compared the requirement to the long-standing policy of requiring annual flu shots for all employees; an employee newsletter dated April 5th states: "The requirement for the COVID-19 vaccine falls in line with our current policy on the influenza vaccine. We are tasked with providing a safe environment for both our patients and our staff. Knowing that all of our employees are vaccinated will allow the community to trust that their safety is our priority. It should also allow our employees to know that they are safe here at work."
Some employees are concerned because the annual flu shot is FDA-approved, whereas COVID vaccines are currently being used in an "emergency use authorization" capacity. Click here to learn more about EUA on the FDA website.
Benefis is not alone in its decision, as an increasing number of other large organizations across the country - including universities, hospitals , and others - have also opted to require vaccinations.
We have seen reports of people claiming that mandating an emergency-use authorization vaccine is illegal, but do not yet know of any employer-mandated policies that have been formally challenged in any court.
As of April 5th, about 64% of Benefis employees have been vaccinated. The deadline for employees to be vaccinated is July 1st.
In contrast, Great Falls Clinic told MTN News that, at this time, it is not mandating COVID vaccinations for its employees.
The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says that more than 167 million doses of COVID vaccine have been administered in the U.S. through April 5, 2021, adding that the vaccines were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials: "The vaccines met FDA’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization."