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Over 170 employees of a Houston hospital were suspended earlier this week when they refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine due to their concerns over its safety.
Even as 24 percent of Americans say they will refuse to receive a COVID vaccine, and more than 1 in 3 healthcare workers do not believe the vaccines were sufficiently tested for safety, one healthcare system has made vaccinations mandatory.
Any employee that does not comply by receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will be fired. Jennifer Bridges has worked for Houston Methodist for over six years, but now finds herself facing a choice: take a vaccine against her own personal judgement or lose her job. She said, “No one should be forced to put something into their body if they’re not comfortable with it.”
Bridges cites safety concerns for refusing the vaccines, which at this point have received only emergency authorization and have not gone through the two years of rigorous testing and clinical trials normally required for vaccines. While some are labeling the employees “anti-vax,” she disagrees. “I’m not anti-vaccine,” she stated. “I’ve had every vaccine known to man, except this one. As nurses and medical staff, everybody feels like you should have a right to choose what you put in your body.”
On learning of the suspension, a large number of nurses and their supporters staged a walkout and protest for being forced to choose between “jab or job.” Bridges and 116 other employees have since filed a lawsuit against the hospital.
Houston Methodist Hospital President and CEO Marc Boom said, “It is unfortunate that today’s milestone of Houston Methodist becoming the safest hospital system in the country is being overshadowed by a few disgruntled employees.”
He sent a memo to employees, saying, “I know that today may be difficult for some who are sad about losing a colleague who’s decided to not get vaccinated. We only wish them well and thank them for their past service to our community, and we must respect the decision they made.”
The employees’ lawsuit cites Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital CEO David Bernard’s comment in which he stated, “100% vaccination is more important than your individual freedom. Every one of you is replaceable.”
The hospital system has granted 285 exemptions for medical or religious reasons and 332 employees were granted a deferral for pregnancy or other reasons. The hospital is not permitting exemptions based on safety or efficacy concerns.
The employees gathered to protest their suspension and impending termination and were joined by Dr. Angelina Farella, a pediatrician and member of America’s Frontline Doctors. She has voiced concern about the vaccines, saying, “If you are a healthy American under the age of 50 there is no reason for you to get this vaccine.” She also refuses to administer the vaccines to her patients and voiced concerns about the danger of the vaccines to people who have already had COVID-19.
Jared Woodfill, the attorney representing the employees, said, “The legal question that has not been answered is ‘Can you make participation in a clinical trial a condition of employment?” He also believes that the Texas’s recent ban on vaccine passports could come into play.
Bridges refuses to be forced into receiving the vaccine, saying, “They can’t control us out here. I’m tired of being controlled and I’m tired of people trying to tell me what to do.” She added, “We will fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. This is wrongful termination and a violation of our rights.”
The Standing for Freedom Center supports the rights of business owners, including the right to refuse services and to have requirements for employees. It’s a better question, though, as to whether a business is allowed to force employees to take a vaccine, particularly one that has not yet endured the same scrutiny that vaccines typically go through.
Even if businesses are allowed to mandate vaccinations, it doesn’t mean they should. It may technically be the hospital’s right to fire employees who refuse to comply, but that does not mean it is wise or fair. At a time when the country supposedly values frontline workers who are needed even more during this time, the hospital is seriously depleting its staff, making access to healthcare harder for patients and more taxing on its other employees. The goal should be the best care for patients, not strong-arming employees to make a point.
The fact remains that the COVID-19 vaccines are available only under emergency use authorization, and they continue to be tested to determine potential health impacts or long-term risks. What’s more, new evidence continues to come out on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Yesterday, the CDC announced that it will hold emergency meetings regarding reports of heart inflammation in male adolescents who took the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and earlier today, the FDA ordered Johnson & Johnson to throw out 60 million vaccines due to suspected contamination. Two months ago, the FDA forced a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine when some women began experiencing blood clots.
When it comes to healthcare, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Healthcare professionals, in particular, should be respected and trusted to make their own informed decisions about whether or not this vaccine — or any medication — is right for them, not strong-armed, guilted, or extorted into taking a vaccination that they don’t feel they are ready to take. In the United States, individual freedom is still more important, and the same respect and trust about healthcare decisions should be provided to all Americans.
UPDATE: Since this article was first published, a judge has dismissed the hospital workers’ lawsuit and ruled in favor of Houston Methodist, writing, “If a worker refuses an assignment, changed office, earlier start time, or other directive, he may be properly fired. Every employment includes limits on the worker’s behavior in exchange for his remuneration. That is all part of the bargain.”
The plaintiffs’ attorney Jared Woodfill says he will appeal, calling the initial ruling “just one battle in a larger war to protect the rights of employees to be free from being forced to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment.”