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Lehigh Valley hospitals have not mandated COVID vaccines for their workers. That could change.

COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees currently depend on where you work, and hospitals and health networks are no different.

Doctors, nurses and healthcare personnel who worked the front lines during the pandemic were among the first groups eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines.

The American Hospital Association announced last week it adopted a statement that hospitals and health systems should have mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for employees.

Hospitals in the Lehigh Valley have not adopted a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, at least not yet.

Lehigh Valley Health Network does not require employees to get the vaccine.

“We have been looking into the possibilities going forward even before the (American Hospital Association’s) position was announced,” spokesman Brian Downs said, but no decisions have been made.

St. Luke’s University Health Network is not mandating the vaccine, but is strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated and offering incentives such as rewards and prizes, St. Luke’s spokesman Sam Kennedy said.

About 89% of the network’s employees are vaccinated, Kennedy said.

Kennedy said St. Luke’s hopes the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the vaccine will be lifted by September. He said the health network can make a decision at that point.

Guthrie Health System, which has three hospitals in Brandford County, also does not mandate employee COVID vaccines. About 72% of Guthrie’s staff are vaccinated.

“While mandatory vaccination is under discussion, there has been no decisions made on the matter at this time,” said Dr. Joseph Scopelliti, Guthrie’s president and CEO. “Guthrie leadership continues to have regular discussions on this topic and is considering all current recommendations. We will reevaluate again in the coming weeks in anticipation of a fall surge in cases.”

The piecemeal requirements are no different in the Philadelphia area.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System was one of the first health networks in the country to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all of its employees and staff, announcing in May workers must be vaccinated by Sept. 1. The policy also applies to all new hires, who must complete vaccination two weeks prior to beginning work.

Jefferson University Hospital sent a notice last week to employees that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be required, ABC Channel 6 reported.

The health network decisions come as a growing list of government agencies and municipalities announce they are requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccinations, or would give employees a choice between getting vaccinated or face regular virus testing.

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first federal agency to require health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccines.

The department said four employees died from the virus in recent weeks, and all were unvaccinated.

“It’s the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country,” Secretary Denis McDonough said. “Whenever a veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from COVID-19. With this mandate, we can once again make — and keep — that fundamental promise.”

The same day as the VA announcement, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and California officials announced municipal employees must show proof of getting the COVID-19 vaccine or face testing requirements.

New York’s rule includes teachers and police officers, while California’s covers state workers, health care workers and long-term care workers.

The FDA’s EUA is at the center of the U.S. Department of Defense’s decision making.

In March, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told military.com that when the vaccines receive full FDA approval, the department would need to decide if the COVID-19 vaccine would be a medical readiness requirement for personnel.

Service members are already required to get a series of vaccines, including flu shots.

“Obviously, we’re thinking about what happens when they become FDA-approved,” Kirby told the website. “It would change the character of the decision-making process, about whether they could be mandatory or voluntary. But I don’t want to get ahead of that process right now.”

Some branches are preparing for when the vaccine becomes mandatory, not if. The Army directed commands to prepare to dole out mandatory COVID-19 vaccines as early as Sept. 1, pending the FDA approval, the Army Times reported.

That wouldn’t happen if U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, has his way. Earlier this month, Massie introduced a bill prohibiting “any mandatory requirement that a member of the Armed Forces receive a vaccination against COVID-19.”

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Sarah Cassi may be reached at scassi@lehighvalleylive.com.