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Healthcare workers, supporters march to Atrium Health in protest of employer-mandated vaccinations

The hospital systems say receiving the vaccine is an essential weapon in the fight against COVID-19.
Published: Aug. 1, 2021 at 1:43 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Hundreds of heathcare workers and supporters are marching to Atrium Health - Main Sunday afternoon to express their displeasure at the healthcare system’s new policy.

Atrium Health, one of the biggest healthcare systems in Charlotte, recently announced that all of its employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

On Sunday, a peaceful protest started at Freedom Park and ended at Atrium Health - Main.

The protest was organized to stand against the mandated vaccinations issued for Atrium Health employees.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about choice,” nurse Cheryl Morneau said. “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?”

Healthcare workers, supporters march to Atrium Health in protest of employer-mandated...
Healthcare workers, supporters march to Atrium Health in protest of employer-mandated vaccinations(WBTV)

WBTV News also spoke to Dr. David Callaway, the director of Operational and Disaster Medicine for Atrium Health, who stepped out of the emergency department to share his reaction to the protest.

“My sacred obligation is to protect patients and save lives and vaccinations save lives,” Callaway said. “The great news is my whole team in the emergency department believes the same. They’ve taken an oath to protect our community, to protect our patients, and they know how important it is to get vaccinated.”

Dr. Callaway says 47,000 of his team members are already vaccinated, which accounts for about 67 percent of Atrium Health’s employees.

“If you go into the hospital behind me, 90 percent of our patients admitted with covid are unvaccinated,” Dr. Callaway said. “I just came out of the Emergency Department. Every patient I saw who was there with covid were asking, and some were begging for me to give them the vaccine, and I couldn’t because they were already sick.”

Atrium provided this statement to WBTV:

Atrium Health has a long history of protecting the health of our patients, our teammates and the communities we serve. With the new and more contagious variants now causing hospitalizations to rise across our region, we are requiring teammates to be vaccinated against the virus – to avoid catching or spreading it to others in our hospitals or other clinical environments.

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. 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.

We greatly value all of our teammates who have shown such dedication to our patients, their loved ones and to each other during the pandemic, and we respect the rights of those who have chosen to have their voices heard in a peaceful and civil manner. Open communication is something we embrace at Atrium Health. We encourage our teammates to share any concerns they may have directly with their leaders if they have questions about our vaccination requirement.

Healthcare workers, supporters march to Atrium Health in protest of employer-mandated...
Healthcare workers, supporters march to Atrium Health in protest of employer-mandated vaccinations(WBTV)

The hospital system says there is an urgent need for their team members to be fully vaccinated as the new, more potent Delta variant continues to spread locally and throughout the state.

“We view it as essential that each of our teammates receive their vaccination to protect themselves, their families and the people in their care,” the Atrium Health statement continues.

The hospital system says new variants of COVID-19 are contributing to a 200% increase in hospitalizations – and, among their patients, 99% of those hospitalized in recent weeks have been those who are unvaccinated.

“By making the vaccine mandatory for our teammates, Atrium Health, including Wake Forest Baptist Health and Atrium Health Navicent, and along with multiple other health systems across the region, are taking reasonable steps to make sure that our teammates – many of whom remain on the frontlines, interacting directly with people who have COVID – are protected and available to care for members of the community as we deal with the next phases of the pandemic,” Atrium’s statement read.

Photos from Atrium Health
Photos from Atrium Health(WBTV)

The hospital system says this should not be viewed any differently than their requirement for employees to get an annual flu shot, as well as be vaccinated for measles, chicken pox and other infectious diseases.

According to Atrium Health, all employees must be fully vaccinated or have an approved religious or medical exemption by October 31st.

Novant Health is requiring that all of its employees be fully vaccinated by September 15th. Any requests for religious or medical exemption must be made by August 26th.

One Atrium Health employee who wished to remain anonymous told WBTV, she feels the vaccine is still too new and she is not comfortable getting it yet. She feels employees should have a choice and not be required to get the vaccine if they don’t want to.

“If you want to be vaccinated that’s a personal decision but don’t make, you shouldn’t make anyone have to choose between a shot and a job. That’s not fair,” the person said.

Photos from Atrium Health
Photos from Atrium Health(WBTV)

A different Atrium Health employee who wished to remain anonymous said as a pregnant and breastfeeding mother, she isn’t comfortable getting the vaccine yet either.

“As a breastfeeding mother, this mandate concerns me,” she said. “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. 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.”

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