Massachusetts General Hospital

People walk near the entrance of Massachusetts General Hospital, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

BOSTON (AP) — Three major Massachusetts hospital systems said Thursday they will require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, even those who do not have direct contact with patients.

Leadership at Mass General Brigham, Beth Israel Lahey Health and Wellforce said requiring vaccinations for employees is critical to halt the spread of the coronavirus and save lives.

“The evidence of COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness is overwhelming," Dr. Anne Klibanski, president and CEO of Mass General Brigham said in a statement posted on its website. “Getting vaccinated is the single most important and responsible step each of us can take to put an end to this devastating pandemic and protect patients, families, and each other.”

The inoculation requirement will kick in once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to a vaccine. Three are currently being administered in the U.S. under Emergency Use Authorization.

Mass General Brigham is the largest private employer in the state with about 80,000 employees, about 85% of whom have already been vaccinated.

The three systems have about 130,000 employees total.

Dr. Kevin Tabb, chief executive of Beth Israel Lahey, said in a video message to employees that they have a responsibility to protect each other and their patients.

“I think it would be very hard for any of us, either individually or collectively as an organization, to live with ourselves knowing that we have put our patients at risk and exposed them and potentially caused harm or death if we can avoid it. And we can avoid it,” Tabb said.

Hospital systems in other states have announced similar mandates.

Workers can request exemptions for medical and religious reasons.

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