HOUSTON – Jennifer Bridges, a registered nurse in Houston, stands firm in her belief that it is wrong for her employer to force hospital workers like her to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or to say goodbye to their jobs. But this is a lost legal argument so far.
In a stiff defeat, a federal judge ruled outright over the weekend that if employees of the Houston Methodist hospital system don’t like it, they can work elsewhere.
“Methodist is trying to do its business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice designed to keep employees, patients and their families safe. Bridges can independently choose to accept or reject the COVID-19 vaccine; However, if she refuses, she will simply need to work elsewhere,” wrote US District Judge Lynn Hughes, dismissing a lawsuit filed by 117 Houston Methodist workers, including Bridge, over the need for the vaccine.
Bridges said he and others would take their case to the US Supreme Court if they had to: “This is only the beginning. We’re going to fight for a long time.”
And other hospital systems across the country, including Washington, D.C., Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and most recently New York, have followed the Houston Methodist and received pushback as well.
Legal experts say such vaccine requirements, especially in a public health crisis, will likely remain in court as long as employers provide reasonable exemptions, including medical conditions or religious objections.
Bridges is one of 178 Houston Methodist workers who were suspended without pay on June 8 and will be fired if they do not agree to vaccinations by June 22.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System, the largest private employer in Philadelphia, and the New York-Presbyterian hospital system have similarly indicated that employees who are not fully vaccinated will lose their jobs.
Houston Methodist’s decision in April made it the first major US health care system to require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers. Many hospitals around the country, including Houston Methodist, already require other types of vaccines, including for the flu.
Houston Methodist President and CEO, Mark Boom, has said that about 25,000 of the system’s more than 26,000 employees have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“You did the right thing. You protected our patients, your colleagues, your families and our community. Science proves that vaccines are not only safe, but also essential, if we are to fight against COVID-19,” BOOM said in a statement to employees. Going into the corner against 19.
But Bridges, 39, and Kara Shepherd, 38, another nurse who is part of the trial, say they don’t trust the vaccine’s safety. They say they have seen patients and colleagues have severe reactions and that there is insufficient information about its long-term effects.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that while a small number of health problems have been reported, vaccines for COVID-19 are safe and highly effective.
Both Bridges, who worked 6½ years in the medical-surgical inpatient unit at Houston Methodist Hospital in the suburb of Baytown, and Shepherd, who worked seven and a half years in the labor and delivery unit at Methodist Hospital in Houston, say Not anti-vaccine, not conspiracy theorist and not making any political statement.
“For me, what it ultimately boils down to is freedom,” Shepherd said.
His attorney, Jared Woodfil, said the hospital system is not allowing its employees to make their own health care decisions.
Indiana University Health, Indiana’s largest hospital system, requires all of its employees to be fully vaccinated by September 1. So far, only 60% of its 34,000 employees have been vaccinated, spokesman Jeff Swietek said.
Some employees in Indianapolis protested the requirement on Saturday.
Casey Ladig, an intensive care nurse and outpatient coordinator in the bone marrow transplant unit at IU Health, said she quit the day the policy was announced.
“I’d love to hear something other than, “I trust the science,” Ladig said. “It was a huge red flag. I just didn’t feel comfortable getting it.”
Hospital staff and others have argued that such requirements are illegal because COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed under emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration and have not received final FDA approval. But Koch said emergency use doesn’t necessarily mean being used on people, and he said FDA approval is expected.
Alison K., professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania. Hoffman said in claims made by Houston Methodist employees that being used as human guinea pigs or that vaccine policy violates the Nuremberg Code, a set of rules for medical use that were developed by the Nazis. In the wake of the atrocities, “the absurd are on the border.”
To avoid such conflicts, many employers are offering incentives for vaccination.
Instead of requiring vaccines, the small health care system in Jackson, Wyoming, offered a $600 bonus to employees who received vaccinations before the end of May. It increased vaccinations from 73% to 82% of St John’s Health’s 840 employees, spokeswoman Karen Connelly said.
Bridges and Shepherd said the potential loss of their jobs meant some financial concerns, but they have no regrets.
“We are all proud of our decision because we stood our ground and did nothing against our wishes just for the paycheck,” Bridges said.
Mellie reported from Los Angeles.
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