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'Unified Front': Kentucky Healthcare Providers Are Turning To Vaccine Mandates

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AP Photo/David Goldman, File
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Kentucky's largest healthcare providers joined forces Thursday to voice their support for mandating COVID-19 vaccinations across hospital staff.

CEOs and top representatives from UK HealthCare, Baptist Health, Norton Healthcare, and either other providers spanning the state took their most public step yet, taking turns at the podium during the governor's latest update to endorse universal vaccination in their facilities.

"This is a war. It's a war we have to win, battle by battle, and we're at a battle point right now," Baptist Health CEO Gerard Colman said. "We've seen a significant increase in the rise of COVID for the last 30 days that warranted us to make decisive action."

In recent days, the providers have signaled concern over a sharp rise in admissions as the more contagious Delta variant takes hold, taxing already overworked and in some cases dwindling staff. In response, hospitals are turning vaccine recommendations into mandates in the coming weeks and months.

Gov. Andy Beshear said the collective shift toward stricter vaccination policy sends a message.

"I think you see what may be the single greatest unified front for this strong of a step in the healthcare sector, at least that I've seen, across the United States," he remarked.

The stepped up requirements come as COVID rates continue to climb in the commonwealth, with the state reporting over 2,000 new cases for the second day in a row and a steadily increasing positivity rate, now at 10.2%. Nestled in that data are other numbers that have state health officials sounding the alarm, namely a fourfold increase in positives among Kentuckians 18 and under between June and July.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported on Tuesday that coronavirus cases in children and teens jumped by 84% nationally last week, giving parents and districts yet another new piece of data to consider as back-to-school season rapidly approaches.

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Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack says the Delta variant's potentially greater effect on younger people should give everyone pause.

"Those who thought it wasn't ever going to affect you, I don't think you can take that comfort," the top health official said.

The good news is that severe illness and death in the youngest age groups remain rare, but healthcare providers are noticing the uptick in younger patients.

"Those in the ICU, I have folks in their 20s fighting for their life today on vents," Pikeville medical Center head Donovan Blackburn reported. "I have patients in their teens now coming into the hospital."

Vaccines are being tested in children as young as six months old, but federal approval of a shot for those under 12 isn't likely until October at the earliest.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.