117 employees at Houston Methodist have sued the hospital for issuing a requirement for all employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by June 7 or risk termination.
The company put out a new policy last month, requiring all of its 26,000 workers to get both shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or the one-shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, by June 7 or risk termination.
Houston Methodist says 99 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated – but a small group refuses to do so.
A total of 117 have joined the lawsuit, claiming the hospital is ‘is forcing its employees to be human “guinea pigs” as a condition for continued employment,’ reported KHOU 11.
They also said coronavirus vaccines are ‘experimental,’ because they have only received emergency use authorization and not full U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
The federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in December 2020 that employers could legally set vaccine requirements for their workforce.
The hospital system became the first in the U.S. to set a coronavirus vaccine requirement last month.
‘As health care workers we must do everything possible to keep our patients safe and at the center of everything we do,’ said Dr Marc Bloom, CEO of Houston Methodist hospital system, in an email to employees.
‘By choosing to be vaccinated, you are leaders – showing our colleagues in health care what must be done to protect our patients, ourselves, our families and our communities.’
The hospital system first told 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 the time.
The system also offered employees $500 if they got vaccinated early on in the rollout of the shots.
Employees who have a religious or health exemption for receiving the vaccine had until May 3 to apply for a waiver.
The group of 117 workers suing the hospital is led by Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who garnered 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’re not comfortable with, in order to keep your job, is just insane,’ she told KHOU last month, explaining why she is rejecting the vaccine.
‘I’m not an anti-vax person. If you want to get it, by all means, get it. I don’t take that away from anybody Just let everybody have a choice and the right to make their own decision.’
Bloom released a statement on Friday, responding to employees who are refusing to take the vaccine.
‘It is unfortunate that the few remaining employees who refuse to get vaccinated and put our patients first are responding in this way,’ he said.
‘It is legal for health care institutions to mandate vaccines, as we have done with the flu vaccine since 2009.
‘The COVID-19 vaccines have proven through rigorous trials to be very safe and very effective and are not experimental.
‘More than 165 million people in the U.S. alone have received vaccines against COVID-19, and this has resulted in the lowest numbers of infections in our country and in the Houston region in more than a year.’
Bridges and the group of employees are being represented by Jared Woodfill from the Houston-based Woodfill Law Firm.
Woodfill told KHOU that his firm filed a declaration action, asking the court to declare the hospital’s orders illegal.
They have also filed for an injunction to prevent the employees from being terminated on the June 7 deadline while legal proceedings are ongoing.
Woodfill is arguing that the vaccine is an experimental product, and that it should not be legal to force employees to receive it.
‘[The vaccine] that’s been on the market for less than a year. And yes, it’s being used under EUA, but at the same time, that is experimental by definition,’ he said.
‘You can’t fire someone for refusing to do something illegal, and if you look at federal law, it makes it very clear that it’s illegal to force someone to participate in a vaccine trial.’
Currently, all three of the available COVID-19 vaccines in the United States have given emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and are pending further trials to receive full approval.
The vaccines will be allowed as long as the country remains in a state or emergency related to COVID-19, which will be until March 2022 under the current schedule.
Vaccine suppliers must submit six months worth of clinical data to the FDA for full approval, and the application to receive full approval often takes six months to review.
Currently, only Pfizer has applied for full approval.
Bridges told reporters that she is waiting for the vaccine to receive full approval from the FDA before she receives it.