Dozens of employees at a hospital in the Houston area protested Monday evening against a policy requiring employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
The Houston Methodist Hospital had told staff that they had to get vaccinated by Monday. Last month, 117 Houston Methodist employees filed a lawsuit against their employer over the vaccine policy.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends health care workers get a flu shot, and some hospital systems require it, few companies have requested Covid-19 vaccinations, despite federal government guidelines that state employers should have vaccines can prescribe for employees on site.
Executives, lawyers and consultants advising companies say many of them hesitate because of a long list of legal considerations that the Equal Opportunities Commission says must be followed before mandating vaccinations. Some companies say they are cautious about setting mandates until vaccines get full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which has previously given emergency approval.
Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who led the Houston Methodist protest, cited the lack of full FDA approval for the syringes as a reason for not being vaccinated.
Vaccination has been very hesitant among frontline health workers: surveys showed that almost half remained unvaccinated by mid-March, despite being among the first to be vaccinated in December. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in March 2021 found that healthcare workers had concerns about the novelty of the vaccines and their possible side effects, both of which are common reasons for waiting for a vaccination.
By Monday evening, dozens of Houston Methodist employees had gathered outside the hospital system site in Baytown, Texas, holding signs that read “VAXX IS VENOM” and “Do not lose sight of our rights.”
“If we don’t stop now and change something, everyone will simply fall over,” Bridges told the local media that covered the protest. “It will create a domino effect. Everyone across the country is going to be forced to put things into their bodies that they don’t want, and that’s not right. “
Anyone who did not meet the hospital’s vaccination deadline on Monday was given a two-week unpaid ban. If they still fail to meet the hospital’s vaccine requirements by June 21, the Houston Methodist will “initiate the employee termination process.”
The workers’ lawsuit accuses the hospital of “forcing its staff to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment”.
In a statement, the Houston Methodist said that as of Monday, nearly 100 percent of its 26,000 employees would have been compliant with the vaccine policy. The hospital said it was aware that some staff members who had not met vaccine requirements wanted to protest on Monday and that they had invited other staff members to join them.
“We wholeheartedly support the right of our staff to gather peacefully for their leisure time, but it is unacceptable to even suggest that they leave their patients to take part in this activity,” the hospital said. “We believe that our employees will continue to put our patients first. It is unfortunate that today’s milestone in making the Houston Methodist the safest hospital system in the country is being overshadowed by some disgruntled staff. “
On Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law banning state corporations or government agencies from requesting vaccination records or digital vaccination records, joining states like Florida and Arkansas. It is unclear how or if the new law will affect employer mandates like the Houston Methodist’s.
In some industries, including aviation, employers take a middle ground approach. Delta Air Lines, which sells vaccines from its Atlanta Aviation Museum, said in May that it would strongly encourage current employees to get vaccinated and require new employees to do so.
After considering a blanket mandate, United Airlines said last week that anyone hired in the United States after June 15 must provide proof of vaccination no later than one week after launch. Exceptions can be made for those who have medical or religious reasons not to get vaccinated, the company added.