‘Stop the Vaccine Mandate’ rally planned outside of St. Luke’s

“I believe in choice in what you put in your body”
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 11:45 AM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —Protesters plan to be lined up along Parkview and Pole LIne road Thursday, with signs outside of St. Luke’s in Twin Falls, showing their discontent for the organization’s vaccine mandate. The organizers of the event are looking for support from the community so their voices and frustration can be heard.

In recent weeks St. Alphonsus, Primary Health group, and St. Luke’s announced they are now mandating employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. St. Luke’s is requiring at least one dose by September 1 of this year.

“If we do not we get written up. At that point in time, we get to put on a 30-day suspension. If we do not comply in those 30 days we are terminated,” said Brittney Williams, who is a St. Luke’s nurse.

Williams said St. Luke’s has numerous policies in place that employees are expected to follow. They are listed in their employee handbook and can be changed from time to time. The vaccine policy now has COVID added to it.

The exceptions for the vaccine are for religious and medical issues, but Willams said she doesn’t want to get the vaccine because she is concerned about the speed at which the vaccine was pushed out and about some of the possible long-term side effects associated with it.

“I’m still in my childbearing years. I plan to have more children, and all the research that I have done myself when it comes to childbirth is unknown. To me that is scary. That is absolutely horrifying,” Willams said. “I don’t want anyone else to put their bodies at risk, their potential to have children, so many people out there already have issues having children. Why should we add on to that?”

Annie Blass, who is a diagnostic medical sonographer at St. Luke’s said a lot of the other vaccines that staff is mandated to take by company policy have been around a very long time. The COVID one has not.

“It’s one thing to highly recommend and encourage, but for them to go and actually say you are forced to take this vaccine or lose your job doesn’t quite sit right,” said Blass. “So many things in our past have been okay until they weren’t: lead paint, asbestos, cigarettes. All of those things were said to be fine until they saw the long-term data with them.”

Ashley Kenlyn, who is a receptionist at St. Luke said she and others are not anti-vaccinators; but rather, they feel people should have a choice.

“I believe in choice in what you put in your body. It’s like this is being forced. It is unconstitutional,” Kenlyn said.

In a statement to KMVT, St. Luke’s leadership said, “Safety is a top priority for St. Luke’s, as is our obligation to protect our staff, patients, and communities from vaccine-preventable disease. We are confident in our decision to add the COVID-19 vaccine to our list of required immunizations.”

St. Luke’s also said with Idaho’s low rate of COVID-19 vaccination, the emergence and rapid spread of the Delta variant, and the loosening of restrictions St. Luke’s said, “this is the right time to take the step of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine of all team members.”

Jim Souza MD SVP Chief Physician Executive at St. Luke said, “With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States alone, the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be extremely safe and effective, driving down positive cases and hospitalizations. In healthcare, our mission is to prevent illness and death. The vaccines are highly effective at preventing death and severe disease, including protecting individuals against the variants that have emerged so far.”

Blass said the policy doesn’t make sense to her and argues the vaccine isn’t 100 percent, and someone can still get vaccinated and still get COVID. She also points out that none of the COVID vaccines are fully approved by the FDA. Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson were given emergency use authorization by the agency.

“It would be a great argument for them if that vaccine was 100 percent. It’s not,” said Blass.

The group of workers are organizing and participating in a rally Thursday outside of St. Luke’s, on the intersection of Parkview and Pole Line Road to protest the vaccine mandate and make the argument that people should have a choice.

“Our cause for this is not anything about being anti-vaccination. It is strictly about we want our rights. We want everyone to have a right regardless,” said Williams. “So we ask people to support us. We worked through COVID. We have been there for you guys. We are asking people to stand up for us now.”

Willams said he is optimistic about the support they will get Thursday, considering the number of people that came out to protest in Meridian a few days ago. She said she is expecting anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people.

“Honestly, when I first made my Facebook page I was only shooting for 100 people. I was not expecting it to grow this big, " Williams said.

She said she hopes change is made at St. Luke’s because many workers love their jobs and have been there for a long time creating bonds and relationships with the community. Williams said the vaccine mandate issue has created a lot of anxiety with people she knows, and they are afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t comply.

“I had a person this morning say, ‘I was almost in tears because I don’t want this vaccination but now I am being forced to because I’m going to lose my livelihood. I am going to lose how I support my family if I don’t get this’,” Williams said.

It has been brought up in the news and by some legislators in Idaho that the Gem State is an “employment-at-will” state, which means an employer may terminate an employment relationship at any time. Blass and others are concerned about where they will go if they get fired.

“Where am I going to go? I can’t go to Jerome. Yes, I could make the drive to Gooding if they had something,” Blass said.

Williams said she is not entirely sure at this point how the rally will go, but she does know there are people who do not have any plans to get the vaccine and are willing to let that suspension happen and are willing to let St Luke’s fire them.

However, Kenlyn said she is optimistic the rally will make a positive change.

“When we get a group of people that are standing up for a cause, obviously you are optimistic that it will make a change. Will it make a change we don’t know,” Kenlyn said,

Souza said he is optimistic that people will not lose their jobs over the vaccine mandate based on what’s happened in other places that have to deal with a similar issue.

Nearly 80 percent of St. Luke’s staff members and providers across the health system are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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