‘Not lab mice’: Protesters at Idaho Capitol fight hospitals’ COVID-19 vaccine mandates
Ian Max Stevenson, Idaho Statesman
Published at | Updated at
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Several hundred people congregated outside the Idaho Statehouse on Thursday morning to voice opposition to the decision by Idaho health care systems to add the COVID-19 vaccine to immunization mandates required of their employees.
Around 300 protesters joined the Stop the Mandate Idaho Rally. Some identified themselves as nurses and wore surgical scrubs. Many carried signs proclaiming their opposition to the new policies, which will require hospital employees, students and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September.
The state’s two largest health systems, Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s, both announced on July 8 that they would be requiring all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Though both hospitals said they would allow exemptions for those with religious objections or medical conditions, staffers who do not meet the exemption criteria could be terminated if they refuse to be vaccinated.
Primary Health Medical Group, a major provider in the Treasure Valley, also said it would require workers to be vaccinated by September.
Both Saint Al’s and St. Luke’s said that more than 70% of their employees are already fully vaccinated, and all three health care providers said they already require other immunizations for employment, such as flu shots and tetanus shots.
Nearly a dozen people spoke on the Statehouse steps, several of whom identified themselves as nurses. Many at the rally held and waved signs, with messages such as “We are nurses not lab mice” and “If your vaccine works, why do I need one?”
One speaker, Sofia Boyarchuk, said she was a nursing student but declined to tell the Idaho Statesman what school she attends.
“Don’t get me wrong, evidence-based practice shows us that vaccinations do work,” Boyarchuk said. “But it should never, ever be forced upon (us), especially since there have been no long-term studies.”
Kayla Dunn, the organizer of Thursday’s rally, said the protest was not an argument over whether the “vaccine is good or bad,” but rather that “we all have the right to body autonomy.”
But other speakers appeared more skeptical of the vaccine.
One woman who said she has been a nurse for more than 15 years and been in a “leadership role” for five said the emergency use authorization the vaccines received in the U.S. was not “a high standard of safety,” and she said they had demonstrated “many life-altering side effects such as clotting issues, et cetera.”
The FDA and CDC asked states to temporarily halt using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April “out of an abundance of caution” while it investigated rare cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST, in combination with low blood platelets within about two weeks of people receiving the shot. The other two vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, never were linked to the problem.
U.S. government data show a rate of around 0.3 instances of the clotting condition per 100,000 doses for the J&J vaccine.
COMPARING VACCINE FIGHT TO ROSA PARKS, MANDATES TO NAZIS
Dunn said that she was fighting “evil” and asked attendees to boycott the hospitals. One speaker who said she was a nurse, but gave only her first name, associated the anti-mandate effort to the civil rights activism of Rosa Parks. Samuel Petersen, a dentist in the Treasure Valley, compared the vaccination mandates to the medical experiments conducted by Josef Mengele in Nazi Germany.
He added that “those in charge of these medical institutions are playing God,” and that “as a human herd we have collectively lost our minds.”
More than 330 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the U.S., with a small number of side effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received 1,047 reports of heart-related side effects from people 30 and younger who received a vaccine, for instance, out of the millions who have been vaccinated. Other patients have experienced anaphylaxis shortly after receiving a shot, which the CDC says can be effectively treated by providers on scene.
The CDC has called the vaccine vetting process “the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.” Both Pfizer and Moderna, the makers of the two-dose vaccines, received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to administer their vaccines in December after the federal agency reviewed all available data. Both companies have continued collecting data, and Pfizer, along with its German partner BioNTech, filed for full approval in May. Moderna filed for full approval in June.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNBC on Tuesday that the vaccine data “are about as good as it gets” and that he would be “astounded” if the currently authorized vaccines aren’t granted full approval.
“Even though we are still under an emergency use authorization, it’s a bit different than other emergency use authorizations, which usually are granted with not nearly as much positive data as we have for these products,” he said.
Nearly 56% of Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine. But in Idaho, only 40.2% of residents have, according to the CDC.
Nearly all COVID-19 deaths are now occurring among unvaccinated Americans, according to an Associated Press analysis of CDC data.
‘PREPARED TO LOSE MY JOB’
Multiple speakers at Thursday’s event said they would refuse to get vaccinated.
“I’m prepared to lose my job on September 21,” said one speaker identified only as Victoria, who declined to tell the Statesman her full name but claimed to be an emergency room nurse.
She said that if the mandates are not revoked, protests will “escalate.” “We’re just going to be showing up in different ways around the community,” she added.
In an email to the Statesman, a spokesperson for St. Luke’s, Taylor Reeves, said the hospital is standing by its decision.
“Safety is a top priority for St. Luke’s, as is our obligation to protect our staff, patients and communities from vaccine-preventable disease,” she said. “We are confident in our decision to add the COVID-19 vaccine to our list of required immunizations.”
A spokesperson for Saint Al’s would not comment on Thursday’s rally and said its statements when it made the vaccine mandate still stand.
Ada County Commissioner Ryan Davidson attended Thursday’s event and told the Statesman that he is opposed to the health care providers’ decisions. “I understand their concerns, but I just don’t think at this point it’s appropriate for this particular vaccine, which hasn’t gone through all the same FDA trials which regular vaccines have,” he said.
Davidson said the Legislature ultimately would be “dealing with this,” but said county commissioners are “examining all of our options” about what action it could take.
Steve Rutherford, the chief operating officer for the Ada County Board of Commissioners, told the Statesman by phone that “the board has not taken any action or had any discussion of this issue.”
EFFORT TO RECONVENE IDAHO LEGISLATURE
Following the decision of local hospitals to mandate vaccines, Idaho’s Republican lieutenant governor and several legislators have pressured state leaders to reconvene to try to stop private employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines.
On Thursday, with more than 20 supporters standing behind her — some wearing #Stopthemandate shirts — Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin thanked health care workers for the past year and a half and said she was sorry that “employers are now turning their backs on you.”
McGeachin was joined by Rep. Tammy Nichols, a Middleton Republican, and said 19 lawmakers support her call to reconvene the legislative session to address vaccine mandates. The GOP-dominated Legislature is made up of 105 members: 35 senators and 70 representatives. Many senators have shown no appetite to return and have government interfere with business.
“The issue here today is not the effectiveness of the vaccine,” McGeachin said. “The issue at hand is a matter of individual liberty and freedom. Those who have made the personal medical choice not to take this vaccine deserve to have their decisions respected.”
Kelti Baker, a registered nurse, said requiring the COVID-19 vaccine will lead to a nursing staff shortage and put patients in jeopardy. Baker said “nurses who gave their all during this pandemic” will be asked to take on larger patient loads and work longer shifts.
“If we continue down this path, community health will suffer as a direct result of an even greater nursing shortage because we failed to take a stand and to allow our health care professionals to make their own personal health decisions,” Baker said.
Nichols had sponsored a resolution during this year’s session that stated the Legislature’s opposition to vaccine mandates. The resolution passed in the House but failed to get a hearing in the Senate.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Scott Bedke told the Statesman that although he doesn’t like mandates, he also doesn’t think government should come between employers and their contracts with employees.
IDAHO DEMOCRATS CRITICIZE MOVE BY REPUBLICANS
In an emailed statement, the Legislature’s Democratic caucus said it opposes reconvening the lawmaking body.
“Republicans are once again trying to exploit COVID to score political points against each other,” House Democratic leader Lauren Necochea said in the statement. “Meanwhile, Democrats have been doing their homework and we found that prohibiting employers from requiring vaccines is likely to be challenged in court and will likely fail.”
Sen. Fred Martin, a Boise Republican who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said the same thing Wednesday: “I see it being challenged immediately in the courts. And the state would lose.”
Necochea added, regarding the health care systems’ decisions: “When Idahoans take a loved one to a chemotherapy appointment or a medically vulnerable child in for a check-up, they shouldn’t have to run the risk of contracting a dangerous virus in the very place where they seek medical care. Vaccination is the best and only way we are going to truly end this pandemic. It is not only safe but incredibly necessary.”
Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Grant Burgoyne noted in the statement that private businesses requiring vaccinations is different from a government mandate.
“What we are saying is that a natural consequence of choosing not to vaccinate is not being qualified to do certain types of work,” he said. “I hate to see anyone lose their job, but shifting the burden of a decision not to vaccinate on to patients and co-workers is unsafe and contrary to the basic expectation that health care workers do no harm.”
On Thursday morning, McGeachin said she would be acting governor sometime Thursday but didn’t know when. She wouldn’t directly answer whether she planned to sign an executive order on vaccine mandates, but she said she believes the Legislature needs to be involved.
Gov. Brad Little’s spokesperson, Marissa Morrison Hyer, said Little was out of state for 15 minutes when he landed in Pullman, Washington, to head to Deary and Troy at 8:35 a.m. Mountain time. McGeachin’s time as acting governor ended about 10 minutes before her press conference at 9 a.m.
When McGeachin was acting governor in May, she signed an executive order banning mask mandates. When Little returned, he signed his own order repealing McGeachin’s move, calling her action a “political stunt” and “an abuse of power,” and returning such decisions to local control.