Hundreds, including healthcare workers, gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday to protest Atrium Health’s and Novant Health’s recent announcement requiring workers to be vaccinated against the Chinese coronavirus. One registered nurse said she is “not going to be forced to take an experimental vaccine.”
Atrium Health and Novant Health, two of the biggest healthcare systems in the city, announced last month that all staff will be required to get vaccinated against the Chinese coronavirus.
“With the new Delta variant being far more potent than the original virus, we view it as essential that each of our teammates receive their vaccination to protect themselves, their families and the people in their care,” Atrium said in a press release. The mandate covers the system’s more than 70,000 workers spanning dozens of hospitals and other facilities.
“We view this vaccine no differently than our requirement for our teammates to get an annual flu shot, as well as be vaccinated for measles, chickenpox and other infectious diseases,” it added.
The healthcare system told WBTV that “all of our teammates (including remote workers, physicians, medical residents, faculty, fellows, trainees, contractors, students/visiting students, members of the medical staff, temporary workers and volunteer staff) … must be fully vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exemption.” They have until October 31 to do so.
Similarly, Novant Health is giving employees until September 15 to finish their vaccination series, requiring those who seek a religious or medical exemption to make their request by the end of the month.
“We are proud to be among the first to implement this program alongside other healthcare systems in the region who agree that a mandatory vaccine program is in the best interest of public health and a necessary step to ensure the safety of our patients, team members and communities,” Novant Health said in a statement.
According to WSOC-TV, hundreds, perhaps even “thousands,” gathered at Charlotte’s Freedom Park on Sunday to protest the mandates, marching to Atrium Health.
“I think it’s wrong to mandate that our nurses have to take an experimental vaccine,” one protester told the outlet, which acknowledged that the group of protesters included “plenty of medical professionals — some of whom work for Atrium or Novant.”
“I’m not going to be forced to take an experimental vaccine that potentially could injure me or kill me,” Jane Nymberg, a nurse who has worked at Atrium for more than two decades, said. “The chances of that are low. But if it happens, I will be responsible.”
“I don’t think that, I don’t believe it’s right to put that kind of choice in front of somebody,” another nurse, Kelly Cook, said.
Another nurse, Cheryl Morneau, told WBTV, “At the end of the day, it’s all about choice.”
“It’s a right. People died for our rights. It’s not right to take that freedom away from us, we are people too. We sacrificed on the frontlines for over a year. Why don’t we have the same rights as everyone else and as our patients do?” she asked.
One Atrium Health employee at the protest explained that she has not gotten the vaccine because she is a breastfeeding mother, and there are too many unknowns.
“As a breastfeeding mother, this mandate concerns me. The safety of all current COVID-19 vaccines in lactating people, the effects of vaccination on a breastfed baby, and the effects on milk production or excretion have not been studied,” she said.
“Neither myself or my colleagues should be forced to be a part of a clinical trial without our explicit informed consent, which gives us the right to choose,” she added.
Atrium Health released a statement in response to the protest, in which it reemphasized that it will be requiring staff to be vaccinated.
“Most doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are drawn to their profession because they want to help and care for other people – specifically to help them get and stay well and live longer, healthier lives,” Atrium said.
“The new COVID-19 vaccine requirement is designed to do exactly that, since the science shows that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and continue to save countless lives,” it continued, adding that it respects the ” rights of those who have chosen to have their voices heard in a peaceful and civil manner.”
Atrium Health and Novant Health are far from the first hospital systems to mandate vaccines among employees. Last month, RWJBarnabas Health, New Jersey’s largest healthcare system, fired six employees because they refused to get vaccinated.
Notably, all the vaccines have yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).