Health care workers protest COVID vaccine mandate

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 5:16 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - It’s a decision hundreds of north country health care workers have to make soon: get a state-mandated vaccine or lose their jobs. Some of those workers protested against the ultimatum Wednesday outside Watertown’s Samaritan Medical Center.

“Say no to the vaccine mandate. Our body, our choice,” they chanted.

“It’s not about COVID, it’s not about the vaccine, it’s about basic human rights. It’s wrong to force an entire health care profession to get a vaccine that they’re not comfortable with,” said Rhea Pelletier, Samaritan patient care coordinator.

Some say they aren’t anti-vaccine; they just don’t want to be forced to get it.

“This is a fight against the state mandate. This is not a fight against the hospitals,” said Jake Hollis, respiratory therapist at Lewis County General Hospital.

Many fear this mandate will drive more people out of health care.

“You’re going to create a major staffing shortage to a staffing shortage that is already disastrous,” said Remi Love, a Samaritan registered nurse.

The health care workers say just because they don’t want to get the vaccine, doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to make compromises to keep their workplace safe.

“Like weekly testing. Most people are willing to do that,” said Pelletier.

They also support continued use of personal protective equipment.

“I will absolutely put a mask on to go into a hospital. People are sick in there. We should do everything we can to support people that are sick. I just don’t believe anyone should be forced to put anything in their body,” said Tiffany Read, protester.

Representatives for Samaritan continue to assure people the vaccine is safe, but say they hear their concerns.

“We absolutely respect individual choice and believe people have the right to their opinions and their own choice. I think for us, it’s difficult because this is a mandate we have no control over. But we’re working with our staff, we’re trying to listen to them, and we’re working with state and local officials to tell them our side of the story,” said Samaritan spokeswoman Leslie DiStefano.

She says 82 percent of Samaritan workers are vaccinated right now.

The mandate will take effect September 27.

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