More than 170 employees at the Houston Methodist Hospital System in Texas have been suspended for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The company released a new policy last month urging all 26,000 employees to do so by April 7th.
According to the Houston Methodist, 99 percent of the workforce – 24,947 – are fully vaccinated, but a small group refused to do so.
A total of 178 workers who did not get vaccinated are said to have been suspended for two weeks without pay.
It is currently unknown if they will be able to return to work after the suspension ends.
In a statement, Hospital System CEO Marc Bloom said 27 of the suspended workers have since received at least one dose of the vaccine.
“It is unfortunate that today’s milestone in making the Houston Methodist the safest hospital system in the country is being overshadowed by some disgruntled staff,” said Bloom.
“I know it can be difficult today for some who are saddened to have lost a colleague who chose not to get vaccinated.”
“We just wish them all the best and thank them for their past service to our community, and we must respect their choice.”
Houston Methodist Hospital Suspended 170 employees who did not receive the vaccine by June 7 were suspended for two weeks without pay
Jennifer Bridges (pictured), one of the suspended, leads 117 employees in a lawsuit against the hospital
Earlier this month, 117 employees sued the Houston Methodist, claiming the hospital “is forcing its staff to be human guinea pigs as a requirement for continued employment,” KHOU 11 reported last month.
They also claim that coronavirus vaccines are “experimental” as they have only received emergency approval and not full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Federal Government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided in December 2020 that employers can stipulate statutory vaccination requirements for their workforce.
The hospital system was the first in the US to set a coronavirus vaccine requirement in the April month.
“As healthcare workers, we must do everything we can to ensure the safety of our patients and to be the focus of everything we do,” Bloom said in an email to the staff.
“By choosing to vaccinate, you are leading the way and showing our healthcare colleagues what needs to be done to protect our patients, ourselves, our families and our communities.”
The hospital system initially asked its administrative staff and new hires to get vaccinated by mid-April before extending the deadline to early June.
Two employees chose to leave the hospital system instead of getting vaccinated at this time.
The system also offered employees $ 500 if they got vaccinated at the start of the vaccination rollout.
Employees who have a religious or health vaccination exemption had until May 3 to apply for an exemption.
According to The Washington Post, 285 employees received medical exemptions and 332 received medical respite to receive the vaccine.
Dozens of workers protested outside the hospital after Monday’s suspension.
Dozens of people joined Houston Methodist Hospital staff on Monday to protest against vaccination requirements for hospital systems
“Nobody should be forced to stick anything into their body if they are uncomfortable with it,” Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who has worked in the hospital for more than six years, told The Texan.
The group of 117 workers suing the hospital is led by Bridges, who attracted international attention last month for speaking out against the hospital’s requirements.
“People trying to force you to put something into your body that you are not comfortable with in order to keep your job is just insane,” she told KHOU 11 last month, explaining why they got the vaccine refuses.
“I’m not an anti-Vax person. If you want to get it then by all means take it. I don’t take that from anyone. Just give everyone the choice and the right to make their own decisions. ‘
Bloom released a statement two weeks ago responding to employees who refuse to take the vaccine.
Hospital System CEO Marc Bloom (pictured) released a statement saying he was standing by the decision to vaccinate employees
“It is unfortunate that the few remaining staff who refuse to be vaccinated and put our patients first are reacting this way,” he said.
“It is legal for healthcare institutions to prescribe vaccines, as we have done with the flu vaccine since 2009.
“The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be very safe and very effective in rigorous studies and are not experimental.
“In the US alone, more than 165 million people have vaccinated against COVID-19, and this has resulted in the lowest infection rates in our country and the Houston area in more than a year.”
Bridges and the staff group are represented by Jared Woodfill of the Woodfill law firm of Houston.
Woodfill told KHOU that his company had filed a declaratory action asking the court to declare the hospital’s orders illegal.
He argues that the vaccine is an experimental product and that it shouldn’t be legal for employees to get it.
‘[The vaccine] this has been on the market for less than a year. And yes, it is used under EUA, but at the same time it is experimental by definition, ”he said.
“You can’t fire someone for refusing to do something illegal, and when you look at federal law, it becomes very clear that it’s illegal to force someone to participate in a vaccine trial.”
The three vaccines available in the US have all received emergency approval from the FDA. Bridges says she is waiting for full approval of the vaccines before receiving them
Currently, all three COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States have been granted emergency FDA approval and further studies are pending for full approval.
The vaccines are allowed as long as the country is in a state or emergency related to COVID-19 which, according to the current schedule, will last through March 2022.
Vaccine suppliers must provide the FDA with six months of clinical data for full approval, and it often takes six months to review the application for full approval.
Currently, only Pfizer has applied for full approval.
Bridges told reporters that she is waiting for full FDA approval of the vaccine before receiving it.