Of all the places in all the towns in all the world, you’d think that a hospital would require vaccinations for its workers during a pandemic.
And yet last week we saw and heard a group of Cone Health employees just say no to such a policy.
As the News & Record’s Jamie Biggs reported, they took to the street, 200 strong, to make their case.
“Essential to expendable,” one protester’s sign said.
“Stop the mandate,” said another.
“My body, my choice,” they chanted.
“They were heroes last year,” said yet another sign held by a Burlington man whose wife, he said, is a Cone nurse. “Now take an unapproved vaccine or get fired.”
“Idiots!” a passerby in hospital scrubs yelled from her car at the protesters.
We wouldn’t put it quite that way. But we certainly feel her frustration.
Unvaccinated workers not only place patients and co-workers at risk; they also jeopardize their own health and safety and the well-being of their own families.
As for the issue of “choice,” does anyone truly feel he or she is entitled to choose to infect others?
Cone Health officials announced on July 23 that workers must show proof they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 8. The new requirement will cover all employees, medical and dental staff, professional students and volunteers.
At the time of the announcement, 62% of Cone employees had been inoculated, the News & Record reported.
Cone is one of six health systems across the state that will require all employees to get vaccinations as the more infectious delta variant has fueled a troubling increase in COVID cases. The health system’s leadership cited recommendations from the American Hospital Association and the North Carolina Healthcare Association as reasons it decided to issue the vaccine mandate.
It’s in good company. On July 26, 58 health care organizations issued a “Joint Statement in Support of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates for All Workers in Health and Long-Term Care.”
“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being,” the statement says. “Because of highly contagious variants, including the Delta variant, and significant numbers of unvaccinated people, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising throughout the United States. Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures.”
Among those signing the statement were the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Even so, as mass vaccinations were gathering steam in February, nearly one-third of health care workers nationally said they were reluctant to get the shots. At the one of the first U.S. hospital systems to impose a mandate,Houston Methodist in Texas, some employees sued to block it, but the suit was dismissed. Out of a workforce of 26,000, 153 Houston Methodist employees ultimately resigned or were fired for refusing to meet the requirement.
Vaccine skeptics are right about one point: We don’t know everything about either COVID or the vaccines at this point.
What we do know is that the vaccines are working, and they remain the best chance to beat the virus and prevent it from spawning more resistant mutations.
And, yes, it is possible that even vaccinated people could be infected with the delta variant in what are called “breakthrough cases.” But fewer than .001% of Americans who are fully vaccinated have died in such instances. And fewer than .004% of Americans who are fully vaccinated have had to check into a hospital.
As for the skeptical Cone protesters:
You’re already required to get annual flu vaccines, among others, one of your co-workers, certified nurse-midwife Heather Hogan, told the News & Record in an email.
“In the end,” she added, “it comes down to science and evidence-based medicine.”
You also speak of the right to choose. You already did that when you chose to work at a hospital. Getting inoculated comes with the territory.
You, more than anyone else, knows firsthand the suffering and heartbreak this virus can cause. And you’re right: You and others like you performed heroically during the darkest days of the COVID crisis. We needed you then. We still need you now.
For your sake and ours, please get your shots.