By Jennifer McRae

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– UCHealth is requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1. That includes all employees, providers, volunteers and partners. The reason for the vaccine mandate is to “increase safety for all patients, visitors and care team members, helping protect them from COVID-19,” according to a statement from UCHealth.

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“After fighting COVID-19 for more than a year, and as the dangerous delta variant has become the dominant strain in Colorado and elsewhere, it is clear that vaccination against this disease is essential to protect our employees, along with our patients and visitors,” said Elizabeth Concordia, president and CEO of UCHealth, in a statement. “We know that vaccination will also improve health and safety within the communities UCHealth serves, and we want to set an example and help bring an end to this pandemic.”

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UCHealth said the policy applies to all employees, medical staff, trainees, volunteers, vendors, medical students and contract staff. As of Wednesday, nearly 85% of UCHealth’s 26,000 employees have received the vaccine. UCHealth is also providing a $500 bonus to any employee who is fully vaccinated by Aug. 22.

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UCHealth registered nurse Karen Nerger administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a mass COVID-19 vaccination event on January 30, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. UCHealth, Colorado’s largest healthcare provider, plans to vaccinate 10,000 seniors over 70 during the drive-up event this weekend. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

UCHealth said the vast majority of patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated.

“The best way to stay safe from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention for UCHealth, in a statement. “The vaccines have been proven to be safe and highly effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization, even from the delta variant. About 94% of our hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, and even for fully vaccinated people who get sick, the vaccine reduces the severity of the illness. Vaccinated people are less likely to need ICU-level care or to die even if they need hospitalization.”

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According to UCHealth, UCHealth employees will have the option of receiving the vaccine of their choice, which includes two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the J&J vaccine. Exemptions will be granted only for valid medical or religious reasons. Anyone who receives an exemption will be required to wear a mask at all times in UCHealth facilities and be tested weekly for COVID-19. Those not in compliance with the vaccine policy will face termination.

Jennifer McRae