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Workers protest Texas hospital's vaccine mandate

Dozens of staff members at Houston Methodist Hospital protested against the facility’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees on Monday night, the deadline for workers to be inoculated.

Houston Methodist in April issued a mandate requiring that all staff be vaccinated by June 7, becoming the first hospital system in the U.S. to require coronavirus shots for employees. Managerial staff were given until April 15 to get vaccinated.

Houston Methodist said in a statement to The Hill it was “proud to report that almost 100%” of its 26,000 employees complied with the mandate, “making the right decision to fulfill their sacred obligation to protect our patients.”

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The hospital said Tuesday that employees who did not get vaccinated by the Monday deadline were placed on a two-week unpaid suspension. If they are not inoculated before their suspension ends, the hospital said it would “immediately initiate the employment termination process.”

“The small percentage of employees who did not comply with the policy are now suspended without pay for the next 14 days,” Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, said in a statement to employees.

“I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first,” he added.

Following the order earlier this year for employees to get vaccinated, 117 employees of the hospital filed a lawsuit against it, alleging that the requirement is illegal.

The plaintiffs say the hospital is “forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.”

The New York Times reported that one nurse who led the protest at the hospital said she will not get inoculated because the vaccine has not been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

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Dozens of Houston Methodist employees congregated outside the building holding signs that read “Vaxx is Venom” and “Don’t Lose Sight Of Our Rights,” according to the Times.

Houston Methodist said in its statement to The Hill that hospital administrators “fully support” the right of employees to peacefully gather, adding that it was “unfortunate” that the milestone day was “overshadowed by a few disgruntled employees.”

“A few employees who did not meet the vaccine requirement invited other employees yesterday to join them as they ended their shift. We fully support the right of our employees to peacefully gather on their own time. It is unfortunate that yesterday’s milestone of Houston Methodist becoming the safest hospital system in the country was overshadowed by a few disgruntled employees,” Houston Methodist wrote.

Vaccine hesitancy among front-line health care workers has been a theme throughout the pandemic recovery.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey from March found that just more than half of all front-line health care workers said they received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, despite that group being among the first groups eligible.

The survey found that a large majority of unvaccinated health care workers who had not yet decided if they would get vaccinated, or said they did not plan to, had concerns about potential side-effects and the newness of the vaccine.

Two-thirds of the respondents did not trust the government to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.

Additionally, a new poll out this week found that Americans are split on whether companies should be allowed to require proof of vaccination before returning to work in person.

According to the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index poll, 52 percent of Americans say they support requiring proof of vaccine status to return to places of employment, including 76 percent of Democrats but only 29 percent of Republicans.

Updated: 9:39 p.m.