SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — We’re now less than two months away from November 1, the date by which Sanford employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19. Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, chief physician with Sanford Health, says the mandate has been largely popular with employees.
“I think for the most part, our employees are incredible supportive of this,” Cauwels said. “They understand that this is the best and easiest way to be both incredibly safe for our patients and incredibly safe for the coworkers you’re standing next to everyday.”
When he sat down with KELOLAND News on Friday, Cauwels said more than 70% of employees are vaccinated. He describes this as their “lowest estimate.”
“Inside in the hallways, we’re still treating people with horrible COVID disease,” Cauwels said. “And so the folks in the hallways understand the importance of why we’re doing what we’re doing, that it really is trying to keep all of our people out of the hospital and all of our people as safe as we possibly can.”
He says that the decision to mandate the vaccine was not difficult: far from it.
“I think in discussions with our CEO and our leadership team, this for us was a no-brainer,” Cauwels said.
Cauwels says some employees have been undecided.
“I think there are some employees on the fence, and we are doing everything we can to talk to those employees and make sure that they understand why this choice is important to them,” Cauwels said.
Felix Nyangamoi is one Sanford employee who isn’t undecided; he’s received his two shots. He’s a learning and development specialist with the environmental services department.
“We have people from across the world, different cultures, different religions, different beliefs, different backgrounds, so you can see, it’s not very easy, and you’re dealing with people who come from all parts of the world and walks of life who have different ideas about vaccines and things like that,” Nyangamoi said. “So, yeah it’s very challenging.”
He helps connect others in the department with a vaccine.
“Right now with this mandate thing coming November first, I’m facilitating and helping them, taking them up to employee health and helping them with the paperwork, of everything that needs to be done, help them interpret whatever the situation it is, things that they don’t understand, and then they go ahead and take their vaccine,” Nyangamoi said.
“The best and fastest way to get out of the pandemic is to make sure that we vaccinate enough people and protect enough people from this virus, that we’re not putting people in our intensive care units, we’re not losing our loved ones, and we’re not having people miss work or miss school because they aren’t physically well enough to get there,” Cauwels said.
Cauwels highlights an individual’s thinking when asked about a hypothetical employee on the fence who may reach out to him.
“I think it’s important to figure out why they’re on the fence, and it’s important to speak directly to those reasons,” Cauwels said. “Some people are on the fence because they’re not sure what the effects of the vaccine are long-term. Some people are concerned about fertility. Some people are concerned about knowing if the vaccine was tested appropriately.”
He says nuance is necessary.
“I think you can speak to all of those things, but you have to pick each individual subject to make sure you’re speaking to the right reason for the right person,” Cauwels said.
Sanford employees do have the option of applying for a religious or medical exemption.
Avera Health declined an interview request for this report but did provide a statement: “Avera believes fully in the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, and we are seeing the difference that this vaccine has made in reducing hospitalization and death in those who are vaccinated. At this time, Avera is gathering information and feedback from our employees. We have not made a decision on a mandate at this time.”
Monument Health also declined an interview. They provided a statement as well: “Monument Health continues to evaluate the COVID-19 situation in western South Dakota. At this time, we do not require Physicians or Caregivers to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus as a condition of employment. We strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and our communities.”