COVID booster deadline looms for California health care workers

Hazel Hawkins employees have mixed opinions about the vaccine mandate.
The California Immunization Requirements for Covered Workers. Healthcare workers not yet eligible for a booster dose by March 1 must be in compliance no later than 15 days after the recommended timeframe found on this chart. Screenshot of the California Department of Public Health ordinance to healthcare workers.

The clock is ticking for health care workers in California—including those at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) says March 1 is the deadline for all healthcare workers in California to have their COVID-19 booster shots. The CDPH order has sparked concerns about a violation of workers’ rights, as well as how institutions will track and maintain information on the boosters received by workers.

Health care workers in indoor settings who “have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or SARS-CoV-2 airborne aerosols” must comply, according to the CDPH. Exemptions are made for religious beliefs or qualifying medical reasons. 

Further, the CDPH says exempt workers must provide their employers “a declination form, signed by the individual, stating either of the following: (1) the worker is declining vaccination based on Religious Beliefs, or (2) the worker is excused from receiving any COVID-19 vaccine due to Qualifying Medical Reasons.” The CDPH also says workers exempt for medical reasons must also provide employers with “a written statement signed by a physician, nurse practitioner, or other licensed medical professional practicing under the license of a physician.” 

“Workers who have exemptions for religious reasons or qualified medical reasons will continue to test twice weekly,” Hazel Hawkins Director of Marketing and Community Relations Frankie Gallagher said. 

She said as of Feb. 15, 89% of Hazel Hawkins staff have received their booster shot. “Those without exemptions that have not received the booster by March 1 will be taken off the schedule until they comply.”  

The emergence of Omicron and a shortage of hospital staff in California are what prompted the Aug. 5, 2021 state order. On Dec. 22, the order was amended to make boosters mandatory, with a deadline of Feb. 1, 2022, and to require additional testing of workers eligible for boosters who have not yet boosted. On Jan. 25, that deadline was extended to March 1. 

In early January, Hazel Hawkins was short 40 employees with COVID or for COVID-related quarantine issues with family, Gallagher said, adding that the hospital is not experiencing a shortage of staff at this time.

Gallagher said she believes the state deadline extension was made in order to give workers the time and “opportunity to become compliant.” She did not express concern about a staff shortage come the March 1 deadline.  

“We are not anticipating that this will be an issue,” she said of workers’ compliance. “Our employees understand the importance of vaccination and we respect those that have exemptions for either qualifying religious or medical reasons. We do not anticipate that anyone will be fired.”

Hollister resident Julie Locke is a registered nurse with San Benito Home Health Care Agency, affiliated with Hazel Hawkins, and believes COVID-19 should be treated like the seasonal flu.

“I think like the flu, it’s constantly mutating,” Locke said. “At some point [scientists] are going to have to predict which strand of the coronavirus they’re going to have to protect against every year.”

Locke said health care workers are not required to receive the yearly flu shot, though it’s “highly encouraged.” She said those who do not receive a flu shot only need to wear masks.

“I’m not against the COVID-19 vaccine, I think it’s helped,” she said. “But I am against forcing people to get the vaccine. I think it should be a choice that people get to make for themselves.”

Sherrie Bakke, director of patient and community engagement at Hazel Hawkins, said she believes the March 1 deadline could be difficult to track and enforce. 

“There could be people that don’t have a booster yet, but they also don’t qualify to get the booster yet,” Bakke said. “Or if they’ve had COVID, they may have to wait in order for the booster to be effective. We’ve got to look at this stuff every single day: Who’s out, who’s coming back, and who’s due for the booster. And if we let everyone get their booster on the same day, what would that do if there are side-effects and no one showed up to work the next day?”

Regardless, Bakke said hospitals will be working to comply with the CDPH order, especially since dosing will need to be done during employees’ work shifts.  

“Requiring booster shots will help save lives and protect the health of healthcare workers,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents 345 workers at Hazel Hawkins. “Our members have embraced getting vaccinated and boosted to safeguard their health and to help make sure they are available to care for their patients. Now it’s time for Hazel Hawkins to do its job by addressing chronic understaffing that has put patients at risk and left caregivers struggling to do their jobs during the most recent surge.”


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Jenny Mendolla Arbizu

Jenny is a Hollister native who resides in her hometown with her husband and son. She is a graduate of San Benito High School, and received her BA in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and MA in Education from San Jose State University. Jenny is a former elementary school teacher and has written for the Hollister Freelance, San Benito and South Valley magazines. She enjoys bringing informative and educational news to San Benito County, as well as spotlighting local community members and businesses. On any given day, she can be found performing with SBSC, singing with the Hollister VFW, or working out at Cold Storage CrossFit.