According to USA Today, the workers represent less than 1% of the hospital’s total number of employees. Of the 178 suspended, 27 have already received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom said in an email to staff Tuesday.
“We are nearly 100% compliant with our COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” Boom said in the email. “I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first.” Boom thanked those who were vaccinated and noted that “science proves that the vaccines are not only safe, but necessary if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19.”
But despite research proving the effectiveness of the vaccine, some individuals still refuse to get vaccinated and declare the vaccine is not only “experimental,” but that mandating it is an infringement on their bodily autonomy.
“No one should be forced to put something into their body if they’re not comfortable with it,” said Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who has worked for Houston Methodist for more than six years. Bridges was one of the 178 employees suspended, The Texan reported.
Protests took place outside of the hospital Monday, with many expressing their feelings of betrayal for being suspended. According to KPRC, at least 117 employees filed a lawsuit against Houston Methodist in May. The mandate was announced in March.
“I feel betrayed a little bit,” Amanda Rivera, an employee, told KHOU-TV Monday. “I worked in the ER. It was crazy during the pandemic. We were short-staffed. The hospital was over capacity with patients. It was just a lot. Now for them to come and do this is like a slap in the face.”
Another employee added that they felt “bullied” because they had no choice but to be vaccinated or lose their job.
In the lawsuit filed by Houston-area lawyer and conservative activist Jared Woodfill, the terminated employees are claiming they are being used as “human guinea pigs.” Because the vaccines were first issued as emergency use, the plaintiffs believe further research is needed as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives them approval and licensing.
“The science proves that the vaccines are not only safe, but necessary if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19,” Boom said in his email. “The mRNA technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines isn’t new or experimental. It’s been around for many years.”
Additionally, the plaintiffs argue forcing them to take the vaccine violates Texas policies.
Many Texans have long argued against vaccinations and safety precautions, including wearing masks throughout the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, lawmakers like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have not only consistently downplayed the virus but continued to push for state reopenings despite rising cases. On Monday, Abbot even signed a law denying state contracts to businesses that require customers to be vaccinated. He noted that vaccine “passports” or the requirement of having a vaccination card to enter a place is prohibited. “Texas is open 100%, and we want to make sure you have the freedom to go where you want without limits,” Abbott said.
But despite the criticism of the hospital’s mandate that its employees be vaccinated, Houston Methodist is not alone. Hospitals across the U.S. are requiring employees to be vaccinated. According to USA Today, Indiana University (IU) Health announced last week that it would require all 36,000 of its employees to be vaccinated by September. The mandate was announced as a “safe and effective way to protect patients” and the community. “Requiring vaccinations for health care employees is not new or unprecedented,” IU Health said in a statement.
Some employers are not only just mandating vaccinations for workers but also giving incentives like bonuses for doing so. According to CBS News, Houston Methodist gave vaccinated workers a $500 bonus in March prior to announcing vaccinations would be made mandatory.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, current federal guidelines “do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19” as long as employers comply with the accommodation provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations.
In addition to requiring vaccinations, employers are also allowed to mandate unvaccinated employees to wear face masks and social distance while at work. The rule mirrors existing policies for other vaccines, such as the flu shot.
While the U.S. has administered the COVID-19 shot in record numbers, with more than 300 million doses administered and 141 million people fully vaccinated, a large number of Americans still remain skeptical.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in May, 24% of American adults said they do not plan to be vaccinated for various reasons, including the fear that the vaccines were not safe. While the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines has lead to a significant decrease in the number of deaths and infections in the U.S., some still refuse to believe in their efficacy. Misinformation about how the vaccines are made, tested, and their side effects are contributing to these fears.