Rural hospitals have among the lowest rates. A survey by the Chartis Center for Rural Health and the National Rural Health Association found less than half of workers were vaccinated

Rural hospitals have among the lowest rates. A survey by the Chartis Center for Rural Health and the National Rural Health Association found less than half of workers were vaccinated

Melissa Fisher, 53, does not work at a hospital but, as a caretaker at an assisted living facility in Athens, Tennessee, she shares many of the hospital workers’ concerns. In addition, she has a religious objection, calling the vaccine the “mark of the beast.” Some of her church’s elders and her pastor have compared the vaccines to the apocalyptic prophecy in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. 

“We have a freedom of choice in this country. That’s what our forefathers fought and died for, and right now I think it’s being taken away from us with this vaccine,” Fisher said.   

Her employer, Enlivant, based in Chicago, is requiring the vaccine, so Fisher had to find another job. 

Legal 

questions arise about mandates 

Most hospitals require employees to get flu vaccines annually, and data shows mandating that vaccine works. According to the CDC, at hospitals that required it, more than 94% of workers got the flu vaccine in 2019. At hospitals that did not require it, less than 70% got vaccinated. 

The influenza vaccine has a long track record, having been introduced in 1945. The FDA approves it each year. 

Hospitals may be hesitant to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine because none of the vaccines have full FDA approval. Two of the vaccine companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have applied for that approval, which would make their vaccines available even after the public health emergency ends. The FDA is reviewing their data. 

The 2004 law allowing emergency use authorization says that each person must be told “of the option to accept or refuse administration of the product.”  

Legal experts say that language does not necessarily preclude employers from mandating the vaccine, however. Both the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have given employers guidance for requiring the vaccine.

Boom, the hospital CEO, said lawyers for Houston Methodist have assured him that it is legal for employers to mandate the vaccine. He expects other hospitals to follow suit eventually.  

“It is legal for health care institutions to mandate vaccines, as we have done with the flu vaccine since 2009,” Boom said in a statement. “The COVID-19 vaccines have proven through rigorous trials to be very safe and effective and are not experimental.”  

Last week, 117 employees of Houston Methodist filed suit against the hospital system for requiring the vaccine. The lawsuit alleges that the clinical trials will not be completed for another year and the FDA still doesn’t know all the facts about the vaccines. The suit also harkens to cruel Nazi experiments and the Nuremberg Code, which says that people need to give consent to be part of an experiment.

One of the plaintiffs is Jennifer Bridges, a 39-year-old nurse who treated patients in the COVID-19 unit at the Baytown community hospital. That unit catered to patients who didn’t need intensive care, but Bridges said she did care for COVID-19 patients who eventually died. 

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