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Houston hospital suspends over 170 staffers who refuse COVID-19 vaccine

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A Houston hospital has suspended more than 170 members of its staff for two weeks after they refused to take a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday’s deadline, as required by the institution.

What’s more, if the workers continue to refuse the vaccine they’re going to be fired in two weeks, according to a Fox 4 Dallas report. The staff members were suspended without pay, other reports added.

In a statement, management officials at Houston Methodist Hospital referred to the group as “disgruntled employees.”

“It is unfortunate that today’s milestone of Houston Methodist becoming the safest hospital system in the country is being overshadowed by a few disgruntled employees,” president and CEO Marc Boom said in a statement, according to KHOU-TV in Houston. He added that 99 percent of the hospital’s more than 25,000 staffers had gotten vaccinated by the deadline.

The suspensions were announced internally, via memo, which was leaked to The Washington Post and published Tuesday.

“Of these employees, 27 have received one dose of vaccine, so I am hopeful they will get their second doses soon. I know that today may be difficult for some who are sad about losing a colleague who’s decided to not get vaccinated,” wrote the CEO. “We only wish them well and thank them for their past service to our community, and we must respect the decision they made.”

Boom also noted that 285 hospital staffers were given medical or religious exemptions from taking the vaccine, while another 332 were given deferrals because of pregnancy or other reasons.

The CEO started getting pushback when he strongly suggested in March that employees get vaccinated in order to set an example for the city. One nurse who worked in the hospital’s coronavirus unit filed legal action after insisting that COVID vaccines should be studied more before they are required.

The hospital system began requiring employees across the state of Texas to get vaccinated in April, saying at the time it was the first to do so. Staffers who didn’t provide the hospital with proof of vaccination by June 7, or who had not applied in April to be exempted for a “medical condition (including pregnancy deferment) or sincerely held religious belief,” were to be suspended for two weeks without pay.

The memo said that any employees who don’t show proof of vaccination by June 21 will be subject to termination, the Post added.

“No one should be forced to put something into their body if they’re not comfortable with it,” said Jennifer Briggs, a nurse who has worked for the hospital system for a half-dozen years and has fought the mandate for months.

Bridges was one of the staffers suspended and has also joined a lawsuit filed by 117 staffers fighting the mandate, The Texan reported Tuesday. Following their suspension, about 150 staffers, including Bridges, gathered outside the Houston hospital to protest the mandate.

“Just to think that these girls and all of these health care workers have worked through a pandemic, and now you are going to fire them because they just want to wait and see what this vaccine does, I think that’s wrong,” Betsy Larson, a former hospital employee, said.

“I believe it’s a choice,” Ashton Handley, a former hospital employee who quit her job a few weeks ago, told Fox 4. “I’m not on either side, I’m not anti-vaxxer, I’ve received my vaccine, but I believe it should be someone’s choice.”

Attorney Jared Woodfill, who is representing the staffers in their lawsuit, said that because COVID-19 vaccines were approved under an emergency use authorization, according to the law people cannot be forced to take one.

“If you look at the language of the statute, where they talk about emergency use authorization (EUA), you cannot force someone to participate in that trial,” Woodfill told Fox 4, adding. that many petitioners have already caught the virus anyway. “And that’s one of the things we put in our petition.”

Jon Dougherty

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