By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Mountainside hospital and the health group that owns it will require all staff members to be vaccinated against novel coronavirus by Nov. 15 or face termination, according to a memo to employees. 

In a memo to employees, Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett said effective Oct. 1, all “team members, physicians, volunteers, vendors and consultants” would have to receive at least one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna two-dose vaccines, or the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Staffers who get the two-dose vaccines would need their second shots by Nov. 15.

“Those who remain unvaccinated without an approved exemption, will be subject to suspension, and continued non-compliance will result in termination," Garrett wrote.

Excerpts of the memo were published by several news organizations. Ocean County Scanner News published a copy in full.

“We want to give our patients, visitors and each other peace of mind, and the best way to do that is by requiring COVID-19 vaccination,” Garrett wrote in the memo.  

More than 70% of employees across the health group’s 17 New Jersey hospitals had already been vaccinated by July 19, a hospital spokesperson said in a statement sent to outlets including Patch.com and NorthJersey.com. The NorthJersey report notes that still leaves thousands of the health group’s 35,000 employees statewide unvaccinated.

Limited exemptions may be granted to employees that qualify based on medical conditions or religious beliefs. The decision, Garrett said in the memo, was made to reflect similar policies in place for mandatory vaccines guarding against influenza and other infectious diseases.

Montclair Local coronavirus tracker

“The vaccines continue to demonstrate that they are not only safe, but highly effective. In fact, recent data show that nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the United States are not occurring among unvaccinated individuals, demonstrating the incredible efficacy of the vaccines,” Garrett’s memo reads. 

It also says patients and community members have been asking specifically to be treated by vaccinated caregivers and medical providers. It notes the growing prevalence of new strains of coronavirus that “are proving to be more contagious and dangerous than the original strain.

“Mandatory vaccination will not only help to stop new variants from popping up, it will also give our patients and visitors the peace of mind they are asking for and deserve,” Garrett wrote. 

RWJBarnabas Health was the first hospital system in New Jersey to announce it would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for staff, in May. Earlier this week, it fired six supervisory employees who hadn’t met a June 30 deadline to be vaccinated, according to multiple reports citing a company spokesperson.

New Jersey officials have been tracking worrying signs of new viral spread in the last several weeks. Over that same time, the Delta variant of the coronavirus — considered radically more transmissible than the original novel coronavirus — has become the dominant strain in the United States.  As of Saturday, the state was measuring a rate of transmission of 1.44; anything above 1.0 indicates increasing spread.

In the week leading up to Saturday, Montclair had seen 28 new coronavirus cases, according to the township’s tracking. In early June, seven-day totals for new cases often ranged between 1 and 4. The township counted its most recent coronavirus death on April 30 — for a total of 73 to date. 

As of Saturday, 70% of Montclair’s overall population and 85% of its population over age 18 had been fully vaccinated, according to state Department of Health data. That puts the township ahead of the state, where 57% of the overall population is vaccinated.