Generations of families have brought their loved ones to Mayo Clinic when disease strikes, sometimes traveling thousands of miles to do so. The trust placed in this renowned medical center obligates it to put patients' health first at all times.
In a pandemic, that means requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for staff. Those who come to Rochester for healing should expect that their caregivers have done everything possible to prevent infection from a potentially deadly virus.
Mayo admirably was among the first medical centers regionally to require shots for its workforce, announcing this step in July. It deserves commendation, not condemnation. Disturbingly, 38 Republican legislators in Minnesota recently signed a letter accusing Mayo of unethical behavior for enforcing this vital patient protection policy.
They could not be more wrong. The ethical course of action is preventing patients and their families from contracting COVID. Staff vaccination also protects employees and their communities. COVID has claimed more than 800,000 American lives. This is a time strengthen safeguards, not backtrack.
The Dec. 8 missive appears on the letterhead of Rep. Peggy Bennett, a retired educator who represents Albert Lea and serves as assistant minority leader. Signatories include House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, Deputy House Minority Leader Anne Neu Brindley and 35 GOP House members.
The letter says legislators are writing with "great consternation" after hearing from a "large number" of Mayo employees about the medical center's vaccination policy, which will require a first shot by Jan. 3. The authors decry an "onerous" process for getting a religious exemption and said employees should be able to make their own vaccination decisions without the threat of losing their jobs.
Mayo's current policy is neither "ethical, nor is it realistic,'' the letter states. It ends with a clumsy threat about Republican House members' support for any upcoming legislative asks from Mayo.
Bennett didn't respond to an editorial writer's request for comment. But a House GOP spokesman emphasized that the letter expresses opposition to mandates, not to vaccination.
Asked how many Mayo employees had complained to legislators, the spokesman said "upwards of three dozen constituents and Mayo workers" had contacted Bennett.
That's a very slender slice of the 71,350 people Mayo employs in all of its locations. Ninety-three percent of its staff have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. The information suggests that the policy has broad support and that all but a few workers understand the heightened responsibilities inherent in health care employment.
The vaccine requirement also helps protect the economic health of the medical center. Mayo is one of medicine's best-known brand names, but even it cannot afford to have a COVID superspreader event. Mayo cares for more than 1.3 million people annually and is the state's largest employer.
"Mayo is a place where the elderly and the immune compromised, those at the highest risk of severe COVID infections, are welcomed. It is also a place where people consent to have their immune systems compromised by chemotherapy or radiation therapy in order to treat their illnesses,'' said Dr. Steven Miles, a University of Minnesota professor emeritus of medicine and bioethics.
Weakening Mayo's COVID vaccination policy would endanger "every one of these people," Miles said.
In a statement, Mayo Clinic said its exemptions process complies with the law, and that it has already granted "the majority of exemptions sought." Private employers including clinic and hospital systems have implemented vaccine requirements for other infectious diseases for years, it noted. Mayo also cited the "moral imperative" for its vaccine policy.
It's reassuring to see that the famed medical center isn't backing away from its vaccine requirement after the GOP attack. That decision will help keep patients, their families and the state's economy healthy.