President Joe Biden’s mandate that all healthcare workers take the COVID-19 vaccine should “level the playing field,” a Comanche County Memorial Hospital executive said.

Dr. Scott Michener, the hospital’s chief medical director, said 72% of the staff has been vaccinated but it’s critical the remaining employees receive the vaccine so they and the patients can remain protected from the Delta variant, which is easily transmissible to adults and children.

“We’ve had multiple conversations about requirements for the vaccinations. If we had made it mandatory, they (staff members) could (have) gone across town (to work),” Michener said. “This levels the playing field. It’s going to be a positive thing.”

No federal timeline has been issued for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, Michener said last week. Hospital spokeswoman Nicole Jolly confirmed Monday the hospital has not received any further guidance on when workers will need to be vaccinated. Biden’s mandate requires healthcare workers in any Medicare or Medicaid facility to be vaccinated.

Michener said he’s unsure if CCMH will lose any employees because of the vaccine mandate.

“We could lose some CNAs because they could find a comparable wage elsewhere,” he said. “But as far as nurses and doctors, I don’t think we’ll lose any. For RNs, it would be difficult to find a matching salary.”

Prior to Biden’s mandate, Michener said hospital officials had examined weekly COVID testing as an alternative to vaccination, but that would require about 500 tests a week with 28% of CCMH employees being unvaccinated.

“We were still back-ordered on testing supplies, so we weren’t able to do that,” he said. “I think most people in healthcare favor the (mandated) vaccinations. We are very much in favor of it. Vaccinations are the only way to get past this pandemic.”

Healthcare workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities are required annually to receive a variety of vaccines, including the flu shot.

“I don’t know why this would be any different,” Michener said. “We lost a 31-year-old man with six kids and we’re withdrawing care from five other patients. This is real and vaccinations are the answer. We have 22 (patients) on ventilators right now.”

As of Sept. 13, all CCMH beds were full, including the intensive care unit. The hospital reported having 53 COVID patients, 43 of which were unvaccinated. In ICU, the hospital had 17 COVID patients, 15 of which were unvaccinated.

The Delta variant, with its aggressive nature, has easily infected children and young adults in higher numbers compared to the original COVID-19 virus that struck last year and hit largely the elderly population.

“It was hard on them (nurses) before, but it was different. People were in their seventh decade of life. Now, they’re kids, or in their 30s and 40s with kids. You feel pretty darn confident that they would still be alive with a vaccine. We’re just one place and this is going on everywhere else,” Michener said.

Michener agreed with Biden’s assessment that COVID-19 is a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The president also said his patience was “wearing thin.” Michener said his approach as chief medical director has been guided by education toward Lawton and southwest Oklahoma residents.