ST. PAUL — Allina Health, a major health care network and employer in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, announced Tuesday, Aug. 3, that it will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October.

It is the latest health care provider in the region to announce a policy requiring employee vaccinations, with Sanford Health and Mayo Clinic, among others, having previously implemented similar measures.

Nearly two-thirds of Allina employees have already received their COVID-19 shots, according to a news release, a vaccination rate the network seeks to improve as more transmissible variants of the coronavirus spread.

"The entire Allina Health team has been exceptional in rising to the challenges over the past year and a half," Dr. John Misa, vice president and clinical officer of Allina Health, said in the release. "Ensuring that our employees are vaccinated not only sends an important signal to the community that we embrace safety, but that we continue to take every possible step to bring about the end of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Allina's decision to require the vaccine comes as employers across the U.S. and region weigh whether to do the same and amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases attributed to the coronavirus delta variant. The nonprofit health care system owns or otherwise operates 12 hospitals and dozens of health clinics in the region that employ approximately 28,000 people.

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Employees were encouraged but not required to take the COVID-19 vaccine as recently as late July. But they will have to receive at least their first shot of the vaccine, which generally takes two doses to be fully effective, by Oct. 1, according to Tuesday's news release.

That policy will apply not only to employees but volunteers, students and contracted staff, as well. Allina notes that exceptions may be granted for medical or religious reasons. Allina cited a "growing concern" among clinicians and patients about the increase in new COVID-19 infections in its announcement.

Employees who do not have medical or religious exemptions and who do not get the vaccine will "no longer be able to be employed by Allina Health" after the October deadline, according to Allina spokesperson Tim Burke.

"Having received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 1 is a condition of employment," he said in an email.

Employees in June were told that flu shots would also be mandatory. Face masks are still required in Allina facilities as well.