As healthcare workers, we have a duty – an obligation, even – to keep those in our care safe and protected. The Delta variant has become the most common form of COVID-19 in this country. To date, the Delta variant is reported to be 250% more contagious than previous versions of COVID-19. 

And so, given the threat from all of the new variants, and the ongoing data on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, we are now making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for Atrium Health teammates, as we do for the flu, measles and other infectious diseases. In taking this step, we are joining a growing list of health systems adding COVID-19 vaccination to their employment requirements.

General Questions

Teammate COVID-19 vaccinations are now required for all teammates (including remote workers), physicians, medical residents, faculty, fellows, trainees, contractors, students/visiting students, members of the medical staff, temporary workers and volunteer staff. This applies to paid and unpaid teammates. All teammates must comply with the HR Infectious Diseases Prevention 4.05 Policy by either completing their COVID-19 vaccine series or having an approved medical or religious exemption by Sunday, October 31, 2021.

Students who do not follow this policy will be assessed a late fee and face consequences (suspension from class/lab/clinical/fieldwork) up to and including dismissal from the college.

Students requesting consideration for an exemption must submit their request by Tuesday, August 31, 2021.

Our mission is to provide hope, health and healing for ALL. Ensuring the safety of our patients is central to that mission. We need everyone to be vaccinated in order to achieve the level of protection from COVID-19 that our patients and fellow teammates deserve. Our patients must be able to rely on us to provide care without the concern that they may be exposed to additional infections, like flu and COVID-19.

While we have made much progress in the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus and its mutations again pose an increasing risk to our communities. COVID-19 vaccination is the single most effective tool we have to safely stop the spread of this virus, including its more dangerous variants, and to prevent needless illness, hospitalization and even death.

A thorough internal scientific and ethical review of the COVID-19 vaccine research continues to show that the vaccines are safe and highly effective in protecting our communities.

The majority of Atrium Health teammates have voluntarily received the COVID-19 vaccine since January and we are grateful to them for helping to protect our patients, communities and each other. We look forward to the day when all of our teammates are protected from this deadly virus.

The dangerous Delta variant and other COVID-19 mutations have changed the situation. The new variants are far more contagious and may cause more severe disease than earlier versions of the virus. The Delta variant strain now accounts for more than 60% of cases in our region and impacts younger, unvaccinated populations, doubling the rate of hospitalizations compared to earlier versions of the virus. A fourth variant, Gamma, is gaining ground in the U.S. and spread very quickly in Brazil.

Now that the Delta variant is the dominant strain, we need to take action to prevent spread and another surge of infections.

Atrium Health is joining a growing number of healthcare systems, healthcare facilities and other organizations, including Johns Hopkins, Trinity Health, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and dozens of others across the nation that also have mandatory vaccinations to protect their teammates and patients. Several hospital associations including the American Hospital Association are endorsing the policies that require COVID vaccination as a condition of employment.

This is a much-misunderstood fact. The COVID vaccines all have a form of approval called Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) that allows for the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines to be streamlined in a public health emergency. This designation does not mean shortcuts were taken in the research or the clinical studies that were conducted. In fact, all three approved vaccines went through the same trials that other drugs use in a more traditional approval process just on a different track that is commonly used by the FDA. Hundreds of millions of COVID vaccination doses have now been given in the United States and the data shows that the vaccines continue to be safe, effective, and our best protection against another devastating surge from newer more contagious variants.

The deadline for teammates/students to receive their complete COVID-19 vaccination series is Sunday, October 31, 2021. Teammates receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine must have received both doses by this deadline.

  • Teammates receiving the Moderna vaccine will need to have their first shot no later than October 3, 2021.
  • Teammates receiving the Pfizer vaccine will need to have their first shot no later than October 10.
  • All teammates will need to complete their COVID-19 vaccine series by October 31.

Students who do not follow this policy will be assessed a late fee and face consequences (suspension from class/lab/clinical/fieldwork) up to and including dismissal from the college.

Students requesting consideration for an exemption must submit their request by Tuesday, August 31, 2021.

The policy applies to all Atrium Health teammates (including remote workers, physicians, medical residents, faculty, fellows, students of Atrium Health schools, and members of the medical staff). In addition, the policy applies to anyone working at Atrium Health locations, including medical staff, volunteers, contractors, visiting students, trainees, teammates contracted through agencies or other temporary workers.

If you are scheduled for approved leave during the deadline, you are encouraged to be vaccinated before beginning leave. You may receive a vaccine from Atrium Health or another location while you are on leave.

If you are currently taking approved leave, there are three options:

  • You must receive your first dose/single dose of Johnson & Johnson within two weeks of returning to school (Pfizer, Modern or Johnson & Johnson) and receive your second dose, (for Pfizer and Moderna), within 4 weeks after returning to school.
  • You must submit an exemption request form (which must be done during the first two weeks returning to school), the student will be given a new deadline for vaccination or training requirements after the student is notified of a decision.
  • If you received your vaccine outside of Atrium Health while on leave, you must submit proof within two weeks of your return. To submit proof of your vaccine, please upload your vaccine card into Cabarrus College’s Exxat system at Login (exxat.com).

Students at Atrium Health-owned schools will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or have an approved medical or religious exemption.

We are requiring all teammates to get the vaccine because any teammate, regardless of role or work location, can be required without notice to report to our locations and interact with patients, visitors and/or other teammates.

As an employer we have a duty to protect our teammates. As a healthcare provider we have a responsibility to lead through our actions during this pandemic.

Receiving the vaccine is the right thing to do to protect our patients, yourself, your family and your teammates. The vast majority of our teammates who became sick with COVID-19 have contracted it in the community, not at work. And remember, the more people in the community who get the vaccine, the better chance we have of getting rid of the COVID-19 virus.

Atrium Health joins a growing list of health systems, including Johns Hopkins University, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Houston Methodist, that require employees to either complete their COVID-19 vaccine series or have an approved medical or religious exemption. In North Carolina, we’re joined by Wake Forest Baptist Health, Duke University Health System, UNC Health, Cone Health and Novant Health. In South Carolina, Medical University of South Carolina Health led the charge with a deadline in June. Piedmont Healthcare and St. Mary’s Health Care System in Georgia are also requiring the vaccination. Further, the American Hospital Association, American Nurses Association, the American Association of Medical Colleges and many other organizations have recently endorsed mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers.

For more information on the growing list of healthcare organizations and employers endorsing mandatory vaccines, review these resources:

  • Joint Statement from Healthcare Worker Associations in Support of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates for All Workers in Health and Long-Term Care
  • “AMA, Dozens of Health Worker Groups Urge Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations” - Modern Healthcare
  • “Coronavirus Vaccine Mandates Support Health Workers” - Axios.com
  • “63 Healthcare Groups Back Mandatory Vaccines for Hospital Workers” – BeckersHospitalReview.com

Yes. Federal and state employment laws allow employers to mandate vaccinations as a condition of employment. The U.S. Department of Justice has issued an opinion indicating it does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccination requirements. Read the full mandatory vaccine statement here.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance in late May confirming that federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

To be employed or be a student, at Atrium Health, there are many mandatory vaccinations including Hepatitis B series, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tetanus-diphtheria booster and Tetanus diphtheria and pertussis (TDP), chicken pox, influenza and now COVID-19.

Students are being given ample amount of time to become fully vaccinated before the deadline of Sunday, October 31, 2021. Atrium Health is offering the vaccine free of charge.

Students who do not follow this policy will be assessed a late fee and face consequences (suspension from class/lab/clinical/fieldwork) up to and including dismissal from the college.

Students requesting consideration for an exemption must submit their request by Tuesday, August 31, 2021.

We value our teammates who have medical or religious reasons they cannot get the vaccine.

As with other mandatory vaccines, teammates may submit a medical or religious exemption form with documentation for consideration.

Medical exemption forms must be signed by a physician or APP. The medical exemption request committee will review medical provider documentation submitted by the teammate to substantiate an exemption, which may be granted if the teammate is allergic to a vaccine or its components. Teammates who are pregnant can obtain deferrals on the vaccination requirement, but must follow the requirements outlined in these FAQs when they return from FMLA.

The religious exemption request committee will review a statement of sincerely held religious beliefs submitted by the teammate to substantiate an exemption. Exemption requests based on moral or political objections, or upon factual inaccuracies or misunderstandings, will not be granted.

Exemptions will NOT be automatically approved. A multidisciplinary enterprise committee will review all requests and approve or decline the exemption based upon a standard process.

Teammates are encouraged to submit as soon as possible, and no later than August 31, 2021. If a teammate’s exemption is declined, they must be fully vaccinated by October 31, 2021, in accordance with our policy.

Teammates who request an exemption will be required to complete educational modules regarding vaccines and infection prevention.

A teammate whose request is denied may appeal once. If denied on appeal (or if not appealed) the teammate will be required to comply with the policy by Sunday, October 31, 2021.

Previously submitted flu exemption forms will not be accepted for COVID-19 exemption requests. Teammates will have to fill out a new form for COVID-19 vaccine or flu exemptions.

The exemption form will be available at the beginning of August. Please check back if you need to submit an exemption request.

Teammates who submit an exemption will be required to complete additional educational steps regarding the vaccine and infection prevention.

Currently all teammates must wear a mask while on Atrium Health properties. If our current mask policy is lifted at any time, teammates who have an approved exemption form will still have to wear a mask and comply with COVID-Safe Behaviors while on Atrium Health property, in accordance with requirements from Infection Prevention.

Unvaccinated teammates may be required to comply with other COVID-19 mitigation strategies such as enforced physical distancing during break time and undergoing COVID-19 testing as often as every week based on community spreads and/or concern for spread within the facility at the discretion of Infection Prevention and the clinical leadership team.

It is likely the COVID-19 vaccine will be given every year (like the flu vaccine) at some point in the future. If boosters are required every year to combat variants and keep us safe, we will make those mandatory.

Getting Vaccinated

It’s easy to get vaccinated – with many options offered through Atrium Health and throughout the community. By getting vaccinated at Atrium Health, proof of your vaccination will automatically be entered into your record with Teammate Health. If you receive the vaccine outside of Atrium Health, you must submit proof of vaccination.

There are several ways to get vaccinated:

Greater Charlotte Region:

  • Drop-in a Teammate Health COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic near you.
  • Walk in or schedule an appointment at one of the On-Site Care locations offering it.
  • Schedule an appointment at an Atrium Health doctor’s office or urgent care in MyAtriumHealth. If for some reason you cannot schedule through MyAtriumHealth, you can call 704-468-8888.
  • Find a location in the community such as a pharmacy or health department to receive your vaccine.

Atrium Health Navicent:

Walk in (before 5 p.m. – depending on vaccine availability) or call 478-633-1547 to schedule an appointment at Employee/Teammate Health (main campus only).

Yes. You may get any of the FDA authorized vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. You must, however, complete the full recommended series: two shots for Pfizer and Moderna and one shot for Johnson & Johnson.

All of these vaccines help prevent COVID-19 and are extremely effective in preventing hospitalization and death with no serious safety concerns. Current data show vaccines are effective against the highly contagious and more severe COVID-19 variants.

Teammates who received a different vaccination in another country must submit documentation of that vaccination for review by Teammate Health.

Atrium Health offers all currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccines available at different locations will vary. You can pick which vaccine you receive when you make your appointment.

Walk-ins are available at several Greater Charlotte Region On-Site Care locations. Those locations offer Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Atrium Health Navicent is offering Pfizer and Moderna. Teammates should call Employee Health at 478-633-1547 to schedule an appointment.

Atrium Health practices in the Greater Charlotte Region are offering all vaccines, but which ones are available depends on the location. Schedule an appointment today.

Teammates can fill out the COVID-19 Vaccination Designation form to show proof they received the vaccination outside of Atrium Health. Teammates will need to upload a photo of their vaccination card by the deadline of Sunday, October 31.

Yes. You should schedule your appointment for a time that is most convenient for you or call 1-833-TEAL-NOW.

Vaccine Safety

Yes. We would never ask our teammates to do something we did not think was safe.

The COVID-19 vaccines have undergone some of the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. The vaccines have been through rigorous trials and are safe, highly effective in protecting our communities (even against the variants) and is critically important to saving lives and eliminating COVID-19. So far, more than 3.58 billion doses have been administered globally with few side effects.

It is a good thing that leaders around the world have used tremendous resources so that we could quickly develop a vaccine. No vaccine or medical research has had that kind of effort behind it in decades. Since scientists had been working on the technology behind the vaccines (like mRNA) for many years, we were ready to put that knowledge to use when it was needed most.

The CDC and the FDA continue to monitor individuals who have received the vaccine to ensure there's no evidence of even rare safety issues. We understand some of you might be nervous about the vaccine, but as healthcare workers, we have a duty to protect our patients and each other, and we would never seek to put our teammates in harm's way. We believe getting the vaccine will safely protect you, your family and our patients. Please also keep in mind that COVID-19 can be a fatal or debilitating disease, even in young healthy people. The risks from contracting the virus are greater than the possible risks from receiving the vaccine.

No. It is not possible to get COVID-19 from vaccines. None of these vaccines contain a live virus or even a “weakened” virus. They all deliver genetic material that triggers an immune response, which is what creates antibodies that protect you. That genetic material quickly breaks down in our bodies, does not affect our own body’s DNA, and cannot give us COVID-19.

These vaccines, however, do cause our immune system to turn on. That is how they teach our bodies to protect us from future infection. This means that some people may get a fever, body aches and experience other side effects following vaccination. These are all a result of our immune system doing its job.

Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that reinfection with COVID-19 is possible, people are advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with COVID-19. At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person and the evidence suggests natural immunity may not last very long in some people. To develop immunity (or protection) against a virus, you need the antibodies to fight the infection. A vaccine helps you to build that immunity and protects you from another COVID-19 infection.

No. This myth may have arisen from the fact that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines contain messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA is a type of genetic material, but it's not the same as DNA. The RNA does not enter the cell nucleus, which is where your DNA lives. Many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies, but not mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies. mRNA vaccines do not change your DNA.

There are very few medical reasons not to get the COVID-19 vaccines. Specifically, teammates with history of severe allergic reaction to a prior dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or the components of any of the COVID-19 vaccines should have your physician complete the medical exemption form.

Flu-like side effects occur in about 50% of people and are more common after the second dose; they last for a day or so and can be controlled with drugs like Tylenol or Motrin if needed after you get the vaccine.

More than 3.58 billion doses have been administered globally with little side effects.

Getting sick with COVID-19 has exponentially higher risks than any of the possible side effects of the vaccine. The risks of COVID-19 infection are:

  • 10% risk of being hospitalized
    • If hospitalized - 10% risk of dying
  • High risks (up to 50% in some cases) of long-term complications like chronic fatigue, "brain fog" or heart problems that persist for months after infection

That said, there have been some very rare side effects including:

  • Blood clots with low platelets (clotting factor in blood): The administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily put on hold after the vaccine caused blood clots in six out 6.8 million patients. The FDA has since removed its pause and instead recommends that women younger than 50 be made aware of the rare complication. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are available alternatives to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome: In July 2021, the FDA updated the warning label on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to include an increased risk of a rare neurological disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome, but health experts say not to worry. Out of the 13 million doses of J&J vaccine, there have only been about 100 preliminary reports of the syndrome, which is still rare. Cases were primarily men in their 50s or older and developed symptoms within 42 days of injection. Experts stress the risk of getting COVID-19 far outweigh the risk of developing Guillain-Barré from J&J vaccine. Again, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are available alternatives to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • Myocarditis (heart inflammation): This has been seen in very low numbers among mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) in males aged 12-29 years old. Experts have reassured the risk of myocarditis are far lower than the risks of serious illness or death from contracting COVID-19. Out of over 100 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna, only 300 cases have been confirmed. Most cases are mild, and the individuals recover often on their own or with minimal treatment. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is an available alternative to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
  • Allergic reactions: This is a very rare risk, perhaps five per million. Individuals with history of severe allergies to foods, environmental allergens, antibiotics etc. can all get vaccinated but may need to be monitored for longer immediately after getting the vaccine. Few people will be in this category.

No other serious problems have yet been shown to be related to the vaccines above and beyond their frequency in the general population.

No. The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently authorized in the United States do not contain any fetal cells. However, the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine used a historical fetal cell line from the 1970s to produce and manufacture its vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine did not use a fetal cell line to produce and manufacture those vaccines. However, a fetal cell line was used in a very early phase to confirm efficacy prior to production and manufacturing.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that all pregnant or breastfeeding women have access to the COVID-19 vaccination and strongly recommends that all eligible persons receive a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine series, depending on the product.

It is important to note that we have limited, but growing, data on vaccination safety in pregnancy. Initial trials of the vaccine did not include pregnant women (as is standard practice). However, as of June 7, 2021, there have been over 123,000 pregnancies reported in CDC’s v-safe post-vaccination health checker (CDC 2021). Based on limited self-reported information, no specific safety signals have been observed in pregnant people enrolled in v-safe; however longitudinal follow-up is needed.

We recommend pregnant teammates discuss COVID-19 vaccination with their obstetrician. Some things to consider:

  • If you are pregnant and get COVID-19, you have a greater chance of getting very sick and being hospitalized. This puts you in a high-risk category.
  • There are different types of COVID-19 vaccines. Some of these types have been studied in pregnant women and some have not.
  • Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccine were not studied in pregnant women before it was authorized for use. These vaccines do not have live virus. It is thought to be low risk. Initial information from pregnant women who have gotten the vaccines does not show risk to the mother or the baby.
  • Johnson & Johnson viral vector vaccine is a type of vaccine that has previously been studied in pregnant women for other viruses but was not studied with the COVID-19 virus. This type also does not have live virus and has been used before in other vaccines like the one for the Ebola virus. When given to pregnant women, it met safety standards.
  • Any type of COVID-19 vaccine that a pregnant woman gets may give some protection to the baby. The baby could get some of the antibodies (proteins made by the immune system to fight the virus) from the mom.
  • While we strongly encourage vaccinations, teammates who are currently or who become pregnant before October 31 can submit a request for a medical exemption and will be required to follow this policy when they return to work.

Teammates who are breastfeeding are required to get the vaccine if they have not yet received it. Breastfeeding teammates may pass on some protection to their baby.

Answers to questions about the science behind the vaccine can be found on PeopleConnect and AtriumHealth.org. Topics addressed include:

  • Frequently Asked Questions (vaccine research and approval, safety and more)
  • Pregnancy, fertility and COVID-19 vaccines
  • Vaccinations for people with chronic conditions
  • Vaccine Equity Resources
  • The CDC and FDA also offer useful information, including common myths and more.

You can also ask your questions in the Infection Prevention Yammer Group, and watch past Q/A sessions with Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director of infection prevention.

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