Health workers risk firing without vaccine

Hospital suspends those who refuse to get shots

- John Bacon

Scores of workers at a Houston hospital system have been suspended and face being fired for refusing the COVID-19 vaccinatio­n, a controvers­ial company mandate that has drawn protests and an outcry from those facing terminatio­n.

Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom said the 178 workers represent less than 1% of almost 25,000 employees.

“We are nearly 100% compliant with our COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” Boom said in an email to staff Tuesday. “Houston Methodist is officially the first hospital system in the country to achieve this goal for the benefit of its patients.”

Boom said that 27 of the 178 suspended workers have received one dose of vaccine and that he is hopeful they will get the second dose. All are suspended for two weeks and are set to be fired if they fail to be fully vaccinated.

“I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunat­ely, a small number of individual­s have decided not to put their patients first,” Boom said.

An additional 285 employees received a medical or religious exemption, and 332 were granted deferrals for pregnancy and other reasons, Boom said.

“I feel betrayed a little bit,” Amanda Rivera told KHOU-TV as she left the building Monday. “I worked in the ER. It was crazy during the pandemic . ... Now for them to come and do this is like a slap in the face.”

Hospital workers across the nation risked their lives during the pandemic, and many died of the virus. Yet a recent USA TODAY survey of some of the largest hospital networks and public hospitals in the country reveal staff vaccinatio­n rates vary widely, from 51% to 91%.

Last week, Indiana University Health announced that it would require its 36,000 employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September, calling the mandate a “safe and effective way to protect patients” and protect the community.

“Requiring vaccinatio­ns for health care employees is not new or unpreceden­ted,” IU Health said in a statement.

The Houston Methodist controvers­y “foreshadow­s the coming months,” said Ogbonnaya Omenka, an associate professor and public health specialist at Butler University in Indianapol­is. Mandates that may seem like the obvious choice to many people must be “implemente­d within a human context,” he told USA TODAY.

“As businesses and schools return to full operations, they have to decide what to do about their vaccinatio­n policy,” he said. “It is not going to be an easy process.”

“Unfortunat­ely, a small number of individual­s have decided not to put their patients first.” Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom

The Equal Employment Opportunit­y Commission has issued guidance saying employers have the right to require COVID-19 vaccinatio­n, citing a “direct threat” to others in the workplace.

Still, more than 100 Houston Methodist employees filed suit against the hospital system last month, saying that the vaccines are “experiment­al” and that the mandatory vaccinatio­n policy is unfair. The suit notes that the vaccines have emergency use authorizat­ion from the Food and Drug Administra­tion but have not yet won full approval.

Boom said the science, along with data from 300 million doses already distribute­d in the U.S. alone, proves the vaccines are safe and necessary “if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19.” The number of positive cases and hospitaliz­ations continue to drop across the nation continue to decline, he said, proving the vaccines’ effectiven­ess.

 ?? YI-CHIN LEE/AP ?? Protesters wave signs at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital in Baytown, Texas, on Monday.
YI-CHIN LEE/AP Protesters wave signs at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital in Baytown, Texas, on Monday.

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