Israeli medical students and students in other health-care professions will be banned from participating in clinical training at hospitals and clinics unless they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, the Israeli Medical School Deans Forum announced on Sunday.
Unvaccinated students will also be prohibited from doing rounds in hospitals. Consequently, the Forum of Medical School Deans warned, unvaccinated students may miss more than a year of schooling.
All Israeli medical students are required to spend three years doing clinical training in hospitals.
The deans’ letter was prompted by a Health Ministry circular issued last week that forbade unvaccinated students in health-care professions to work with immuno-suppressed patients in either hospitals or health maintenance organizations.
Such patients are found in a wide variety of medical fields, including oncology, neonatal, hematology-oncology and bone marrow transplants. The circular also forbade them from working with coronavirus patients.
The circular said that students who refuse to be vaccinated won’t be accepted to medical school if there’s any chance of them having to work in such wards down the road.
The deans’ letter went even farther, saying that unvaccinated students won’t be able to participate “in any instructional activity in hospitals or in the community,” because “any ward or clinic is likely to have such a patient” – i.e., coronavirus or immuno-suppressed – “at any time.”
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Prof. Ehud Grossman, who sent Sunday’s letter on behalf of the deans’ forum and is the dean of Tel Aviv University’s medical school, explained that “the moment unvaccinated students enter a ward or a clinic, it’s impossible to keep them away from different groups of patients. That’s not realistic.”
“What this directive means in practice is that an unvaccinated student won’t be able to enter clinical fields,” he added. “The hospitals themselves have already realized this, and many have started to remove unvaccinated students form the wards.”
“People have the right to refuse vaccination and they can’t be forced, but this means there are things they can’t do,” Grossman continued. “When you’re someone who’s supposed to treat patients and you’re unvaccinated, you endanger the patients.”
The same goes for hospital staffers, he acknowledged, but they can generally be transferred to other wards or other positions, so they pose less risk to patients.
“But for students, the whole point is to expose them to the wards that are the core of hospitalization,” he said. “You can’t replace training in the internal medicine ward with the ophthalmology department.”
One problem to which hospitals and medical schools still haven’t found a solution is pregnant students, since they aren’t required to be vaccinated under official guidelines and some fear to do so. “We’ll have to do damage control and see how to deal with specific cases of this type,” Grossman said.
A Health Ministry circular from 2016 required all health-care workers and students in health-care professions to get all routine vaccinations, including polio, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B and flu. Grossman said he saw no reason why the coronavirus vaccine should be different.