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.

Some other hospital systems in the state said they expect to have vaccine mandates.

The UMass Memorial Health Care system in central Massachusetts eventually plans to mandate the vaccine for its workers when they get full FDA approval, CEO Dr. Eric Dickson told The Boston Globe.

Baystate Health, which operates several hospitals in western Massachusetts, “is currently not mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for employees and will be evaluating our plans going forward,” president and CEO Mark Keroack told Masslive.com.

Many hospitals in the state already mandate flu vaccinations as a condition of employment.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by nearly 80 on Thursday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by four.

The new numbers pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 17,622 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to more than 663,400.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were about 100 people reported hospitalized Thursday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 30 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 60. There were an estimated 1,600 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

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IMMUNIZATIONS

More than 8.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts as of Thursday.

That includes more than 4.3 million first doses and more than 3.8 million second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

There have been more than 272,000 doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered.

More than 4.1 million people have been fully immunized.