By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia health officials are standing firm on the Friday deadline for nursing home workers to be vaccinated, but the association that represents those workers says thousands of people could be laid off because of the vaccine mandate, potentially jeopardizing vulnerable residents.

About 85% of nursing home workers in Philadelphia have received at least one dose of vaccine, but the city says that needs to be at 100% by Friday.

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“We just can’t continue to put people at risk,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said.

The acting Philadelphia health commissioner isn’t budging on the Friday deadline that workers in long-term health care facilities have at least one dose of vaccine.

“If you’re not willing to do what it takes to protect patients, maybe health care isn’t the job for you,” Bettigole said.

Bettigole says about 15% of Philadelphia’s 9,000 nursing home workers have not been vaccinated, putting their vulnerable patients at risk.

There are approximately 5,700 residents in Philadelphia nursing homes, a population that’s been hard hit by the pandemic, accounting for one-third of the city’s COVID-19 deaths.

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“At some point, we have to take a firm stance and say that protecting the lives of people who are most vulnerable is of paramount importance,” Bettigole said.

But a nursing home trade group says unless the city shows some flexibility, thousands of jobs could be at risk in a system that is already experiencing a critical workforce shortage.

“We need to look at alternatives and we need to look at delays and we need to have a plan in place if in fact these workers are forced to leave the front lines,” Zach Shamburg with the Pennsylvania Health Care Association said.

Shamburg says they’ve been strongly encouraging workers to get vaccinated, but some remain resistant.

The nursing home worker shortage is expected to get even worse.

“We could see resident discharges where vulnerable senior citizens are forced to find care in another nursing home,” Shamburg said. “Most alarmingly, we could see providers not just close their doors to seniors in need of care, but close their doors altogether.”

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The association is challenging some of the city’s numbers and says more than 2,000 of its workers could be terminated because of the vaccine mandate.

Stephanie Stahl