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2,200 unvaccinated Kaiser Permanente workers suspended

The employees of the health care giant have until Dec. 1 to get vaccinated to be able to return to work and those who choose not to will be terminated.

OAKLAND, Calif — Health care giant Kaiser Permanente has put more than 2,200 employees nationwide on unpaid leave who have chosen not to get vaccinated against the coronavirus — a little over 1% of its workforce.

The employees have until Dec. 1 to get vaccinated to be able to return to work and those who choose not to will be terminated, the company said. Kaiser said its overall vaccination rate stands at 92%.

“We hope none of our employees will choose to leave their jobs rather than be vaccinated, but we won’t know with certainty until then,” Kaiser said in a statement Tuesday. “We will continue to work with this group of employees to allay concerns and educate them about the vaccines, their benefits, and risks.”

The Oakland-based company announced the vaccination requirement on Aug. 2. On Aug. 5, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order requiring all of the state’s roughly 2.2 million health care workers and long-term care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30.

Kaiser Permanente employs about 216,000 nationwide. Since its vaccination requirement was announced, the inoculation rate among employees has gone from 78% to 92% as of Tuesday, the company said.

A month after California issued its mandate, President Joe Biden ordered a sweeping federal vaccine mandate ordering companies with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly testing for the virus.

The vaccine mandates have proven successful, with many companies seeing high compliance rates.

Northwell Health, New York state’s largest health care provider, employs more than 76,000 people. It said this week it had terminated 1,400 employees — or less than 2% of its staff — for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The dismissed workers include clinical and non-clinical staff, the company said.

At United Airlines, about 96% of employees have been vaccinated under a mandate. About 3% sought an exemption, and fewer than 1% will be fired, the company has said.

In Denver, at least 92% of municipal employees and medical facilities are vaccinated against COVID-19 following its vaccine mandate that took effect last Thursday.

California's order allows exceptions for people who decline the vaccine because of a religious belief or who cannot be inoculated because of a qualifying medical reason, backed up by a note signed by a licensed medical professional. Kaiser did not say how many exemptions it has approved for its California employees.