VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — People lined the streets around PeaceHealth Southwest in Vancouver on Saturday afternoon, holding signs and chanting against any requirements that health care workers get the COVID-19 vaccine.
A social media post said this rally was organized by medical professionals opposed to being required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But Palmer Davis, who helped organize the protest, told KOIN 6 News she doesn’t work in health care.
“I’m an activist and we had a lot of energy this week with hundreds of health care workers threatened with potentially losing their jobs, so we decided to support them in any way we can,” Davis said.
This rally is in solidarity with health care workers everywhere, she said.
“We have to apply pressure to companies like this that are threatening to fire their employees and let them know that this isn’t OK, as customers or patients, whatever the institution may be,” Davis said.
Judiyana Roberts, who does not work at PeaceHealth, was among the many at the rally concerned they might lose their job if they refuse to get vaccinated.
“I’m out today to stop the vaccine, I worked as a CNN and in the medical field for a very long time. We don’t need this vaccine,” said Roberts. “You can’t go and take food from our table and food from our kids’ mouth. We are mothers, single mothers and we work so hard.”
MaryBeth Wilson, a registered nurse from Vancouver, joined the rally because, she said she was “here to defend all medical freedom for everybody, no matter whether you choose the vaccine or don’t. It’s your personal choice.”
One protester, a 58-year-old man named Andrew, said he actually had COVID.
“I thought I wasn’t going to make it but, you know what? Thank God I made it OK and I have antibodies,” Andrew said. “I still test positive for COVID. But I’m over and I’m stronger. I’m getting stronger every day.”
Despite his illness, he still supports this protest.
“This vaccine thing is a slippery slope. It’s taking our freedoms,” he said. He described himself as a “first generation American” who also said the “Google sensors, the high-tech sensors, the news media frustrates me.”
Some at the rally believe that if health care workers quit due to the requirements it could add to shortages of health care workers.
“They also should know they are going to kill the patients in the very hospitals because we are not there to help,” Roberts said.
“I know a lot of people in health care quit over the last year and it wasn’t because they were afraid of the virus,” Wilson said. “It was because of the work environment.”
A nurse emerged from the PeaceHealth facility and told KOIN 6 News not all nurses support this rally. In fact more than 80% of health care professionals in the system are vaccinated, KOIN 6 News learned earlier in the week.
In a statement Saturday afternoon, PeaceHealth said:
“The rapid spread of new COVID variants and resulting rise in hospitalizations in our communities is a clear reminder that we are facing a public health emergency and we must do more to keep each other safe.
“After careful discernment, PeaceHealth, along with area health providers Legacy Health and The Vancouver Clinic, joined many health systems across the country and professional organizations including the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Nurses Association in supporting the required vaccination of health care workers.
“With hundreds of millions of doses delivered in the U.S. and many months of real-world evidence to draw from, the vaccines have proved safe and effective. We believe it is imperative for our employees who are medically able to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We support the right of individuals to express opinions in an unofficial capacity outside of work. Our priority remains the safety of our caregivers and those we serve. This new policy is a reflection of our Mission to promote personal and community health and our Vision to make sure that every person receives safe, compassionate care at PeaceHealth.”
Decision earlier in the week
The rally came in the wake of Peacehealth Southwest Medical Center requiring all caregivers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
The healthcare center said all providers, students, contractors, vendors and volunteers will be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or will have to submit a qualifying medical exemption by Aug. 31. Those who remain unvaccinated will instead get regular COVID-19 tests and be required to follow additional safety protocols, such as masking and potential reassignment so they are not near patients.
In Oregon, 1989 Oregon law makes it the only state in the country where it is illegal to require vaccinations. But Governor Kate Brown announced on Wednesday she is ordering health care workers statewide to get vaccinated or face weekly testing for COVID-19. Brown said she is directing the Oregon Health Authority to issue a new rule this week. Health care workers have until September 30 to show proof of vaccination or begin weekly testing then.
Although the number of vaccine breakthrough cases is increasing, they are very small when compared to the more than 2.3 million people in Oregon who are completely vaccinated.
“Our message today is simple and direct: the COVID-19 vaccine saves lives,” OHA senior health advisor Dr. Melissa Sutton said Friday.