HIMSS to Require COVID-19 Vaccination Proof at Annual Conference

Kenneth J. Terry, MA

May 19, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) has adopted a "vaccination required" approach for all attendees, exhibitors, and staff at HIMSS21, its annual convention, which will be held August 9-13 in Las Vegas.

Proof of "full vaccination" will be required to gain access to the meeting and its exhibit floor. A person will be considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after they have received their second shot of a two-dose series such as the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine or 2 weeks after receiving a single-shot vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson's vaccine.

The policy applies to vaccines that have received emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, as well as COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization (ie, AstraZeneca/Oxford) as of May 10, 2021.

HIMSS said it is evaluating validation solutions. The organization "will likely utilize one or more digital health applications" to confirm vaccination status, according to its website.

HIMSS21 will be the largest onsite healthcare conference since the start of the pandemic, according to Fierce Healthcare. But it's not the only conference to require proof of vaccination. HLTH, a meeting/webinar company that focuses on healthcare innovation, will require attendees to use CLEAR's health pass to show they've been vaccinated at HLTH's October meeting in Boston.

In an accompanying FAQ, HIMSS said it is insisting on full vaccination because "HIMSS21 can be the most robust, productive, and interactive conference possible by requiring vaccinations for entry." A HIMSS spokesperson declined to elaborate.

In educational sessions at HIMSS21, speakers will use face shields or other protective measures when presenting. Seating may be modified to allow for compliance with reduced capacity guidelines, the organization said.

There was no explanation of why social distancing will be required if all attendees will be vaccinated. However, HIMSS said it is assessing "evolving public health guidance regarding the uses of masks in large gathering settings."

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that fully vaccinated people could gather indoors without masks, regardless of how large the gathering was.

While some experts have questioned the new guidelines, there are those in favor of policies such as the one put in place by HIMSS.

"Requiring proof of vaccination is a smart thing to do. So long as everybody who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine, requiring individuals to show they've been vaccinated as a condition of being in crowded spaces without masks is both ethical and vital for the public's health," Lawrence Gostin, JD, a professor at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, told Medscape Medical News.

"Otherwise, there's no way to know if the people around you who are unmasked have been fully vaccinated or not. And it's completely unrealistic to believe that somehow Americans will abide by the honor system and put on a mask if they haven't been vaccinated," he said. The Biden Administration has stated that it does not support a national "vaccine passport" to be used for travel or other purposes. A number of mostly Republican-controlled states have repudiated the notion of the government requiring such a passport. (Nevada is not one of them.)

While multiple states have come out against vaccine passports, only Texas and Florida are preventing businesses from setting their own policies on vaccination.

Gostin criticized the White House's stance on proof of vaccination systems. Noting that Israel adopted one and has been back to normal for a few months, and that the European Union plans to do the same, Gostin said: "The Biden Administration has told everybody there have to be different behaviors for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, but they stubbornly refuse to give any support to proof of vaccination systems. Our government should provide strong national leadership and scientific and technical guidance to create these systems."

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