Unvaccinated healthcare workers are sparking outrage after receiving an ultimatum from their employer. Hackensack Meridian Health, one of the largest hospital organizations in New Jersey, is making its employees choose: get vaccinated or be terminated.
A letter sent out to staff by CEO Robert Garrett calls for all hospital staff to have at least one coronavirus vaccine dose by October 1, or face continued suspension and eventual termination. Amanda Heim is a licensed practical nurse for a Hackensack Meridian hospital and one of the employees facing termination for her decision to not be vaccinated, she told Fox News.
“I feel awful,” she said. “I feel like I have to choose between my values and a career, it’s terrifying.”
Heim is one of the many Americans who don’t trust the available COVID-19 vaccines despite assurances from federal health officials that they’re safe and effective.
“I don’t want to be vaccinated right now because I personally feel it is too soon,” she said. “We don’t know what any long-term side effects may be.”
Heim said she was infected with the virus while she was eight months pregnant.
“I had COVID prior and at that time, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] said COVID posed no great risk to pregnant women,’ she said. “Well, I spent a week-and-a-half quarantined in my bedroom. It finally got so bad that I had to go to the hospital, and I had an immediate emergency C-section. My baby was taken from me immediately.”
Heim said it took three days before she could see her baby boy.
“So my trust in them is lacking,” she said.
Dr. Nicole Saphier is a board-certified radiologist. She told Fox News that she believes healthcare workers with antibodies from a prior COVID-19 infection should be exempt from two-dose vaccination “as ample data show the immunity from infection is robust at preventing future severe illness and decreasing viral transmission.”
“Data also show while natural immunity is robust, a single dose increases the existing immunity even more,” she added.
Saphier noted that vaccine requirements are common in the healthcare profession, but COVID-19 is different because the vaccines have been released under an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA rather than the agency’s usual drug approval processes.
“In my opinion, mandates should not occur until full FDA approval has been granted while still allowing legitimate medical exemptions,” Saphier said.
Adm. Brett Giroir, a former White House COVID-19 task force member during the Trump administration, shared a similar stance.
“On a fully approved vaccine, it is pretty standard protocol that you can require vaccines for the purpose of employment; I do support that,” he said. “If I was running a healthcare system I would work very hard to try and work with people until it was finally approved, and then so be it. Personally, I would have a little flexibility as long as it was authorized and not firmly approved.”
Employes should offer an alternative, such as testing every day to make sure no staffers pass anything to patients, Giroir said.
“I think that’s a reasonable alternative,” he said. “Once the vaccines get approved, I’m not saying I would mandate it as an employer, but I do support hospitals’ infection control standards.”
However, the new delta variant is much more contagious than previous variants and now accounts for the majority of new COVID cases, Giroir noted.
“I would urge and encourage that vaccination is the best way to stay safe, and it’s even more important now with this delta variant,” he said.
Hackensack Meridian’s letter to employees does note that “limited exemptions may be granted to the extent required by law,” but doesn’t specify what specifically would qualify an employee for an exemption.
While people question the legality of employers mandating vaccines, congressional law expert Jonathan Turley told Fox News that private companies have a fair degree of flexibility for requiring public health protections and procedures.
“The CDC has strongly recommended vaccines for healthcare workers so [healthcare employers] have a reasonable basis to require the vaccinations,” Turley said.
When pressed about unvaccinated individuals having any other options, Turley said it is possible to challenge the requirements in some states that have laws barring mandatory vaccinations by private employers, or if a court considered religious objections.
The action by Hackensack Meridian Health has many questioning what will happen once, and if, the vaccine receives full FDA approval. Fox News reached out to Hackensack Meridian Health but has not received a comment back.
Vaccine hesitancy is still happening across the country. The Biden administration missed its goal to have 70% of the population vaccinated by July 4th weekend.