SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The last of the biggest three health systems in South Dakota will require its employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, the health system announced Thursday, Sept. 16.

Monument Health, based in Rapid City, said it made the decision to mandate employee vaccinations by Dec. 1 due to rising rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in western South Dakota, the system's footprint, and because the Food and Drug Administration has fully approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are grateful for all of the hard work and heroism our physicians and caregivers have shown throughout this pandemic. We look forward to the day when COVID-19 is no longer a threat to our care teams, our patients and our communities,” said Dr. Brad Archer, Monument Health chief medical officer, in a news release. “The only way to get there is through vaccination.”

The mandate is for both clinical and non-clinical employees. Monument Health will allow employees to apply for religious or medical exemptions, with applications due by Nov. 1. All employees must provide proof of vaccination.

Monument Health joins Sanford Health and Avera Health, both based in Sioux Falls, in mandating COVID-19 vaccines for its employees. Monument has been criticized for its relatively slowness in implementing a mandate. Sanford announced in late July it would require all employees be vaccinated against the virus by Nov. 1. Avera Health announced Sept. 7 it would require its employees to follow suit by Dec. 1.

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The two reasons Monument Health cited for requiring the vaccines — a resurgent COVID-19 in the area and the FDA's full approval — are not new phenomena. Cases and hospitalizations have been surging in western South Dakota since at least the middle of August and the FDA issued its approval of the Pfizer vaccine Aug. 23.

Monument Health said Thursday 82% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, among those on ventilators 88% are unvaccinated and 91% of those getting intensive care unit-level care are unvaccinated.

“Every day we see the damage that this virus does to patients,” Archer said. “As health care professionals, we owe it to our communities to do whatever we can to contain and control COVID-19. And extensive studies show that the vaccines are safe and effective.”

The following are the South Dakota Department of Health COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Thursday. All data is the latest available but should be considered preliminary and could be updated at a later date by health officials.

Vaccinations

  • INITIAL DOSE ADMINISTERED (IF 2-DOSE VACCINE): 512,734 people, 58% of state's population

  • FULLY VACCINATED: 446,788 people, 50.5% of state's population

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES: 522 (seven-day daily average: 704)
  • CURRENT ACTIVE CASES: 7,526
  • TOTAL CASES: 139,412
  • TOTAL RECOVERED: 129,790

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • NEW HOSPITALIZATIONS: 28 (seven-day daily average: 27)

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 214

  • TOTAL HOSPITALIZATIONS: 7,128

  • DEATHS, NEWLY REPORTED: 3

  • TOTAL DEATHS: 2,096

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