Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who led the Houston Methodist protest, has cited the lack of full FDA approval for the shots as a reason she won’t get vaccinated.
Vaccine hesitancy has been high among U.S. frontline health care workers: Surveys showed that nearly half remained unvaccinated as of mid-March, despite being among the first to become eligible for the shots in December. A March survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that health care workers had concerns about the vaccines’ newness and their possible side effects, both of which are common reasons for waiting to be vaccinated.
By Monday evening, dozens of Houston Methodist employees had gathered outside the hospital system’s location in Baytown, Texas, holding signs that read “Vaxx is Venom” and “Don’t Lose Sight of Our Rights.”
“If we don’t stop this now and do some kind of change, everybody’s just going to topple,” Bridges told local news media covering the protest. “It’s going to create a domino effect. Everybody across the nation is going to be forced to get things into their body that they don’t want and that’s not right.”
“I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first."
- Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist
Those who did not meet the hospital’s vaccination deadline Monday were placed on a two-week unpaid suspension. If they still do not meet the hospital's vaccine requirements by June 21, Houston Methodist will “initiate the employee termination process.”
The workers’ lawsuit accuses the hospital of “forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.”
In a statement Tuesday, Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, said 178 employees did not meet the vaccination deadline Monday.
“I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first,” Boom said.
“If we don't stop this now and do some kind of change, everybody's just going to topple. It's going to create a domino effect. Everybody across the nation is going to be forced to get things into their body that they don't want and that's not right."
- Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who led the Houston Methodist protest
Of the suspended employees, about 27 had received at least one dose, and Boom said he hoped they will get their second dose soon to meet the vaccine requirement.
On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed a law prohibiting businesses or government entities in the state from requiring vaccine passports, or digital proof of vaccination, joining states such as Florida and Arkansas. It’s unclear how or if the new law will affect employer mandates such as Houston Methodist’s.
In some industries, including aviation, employers are taking a middle-ground approach. Delta Air Lines, which is distributing vaccines out of its flight museum in Atlanta, said in May that it would strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated and require it for new hires.
United Airlines, after considering a blanket mandate, said last week that it would require anyone hired in the United States after June 15 to provide proof of vaccination no later than a week after starting. Exceptions may be made for those who have medical or religious reasons for not getting vaccinated, the company added.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.