First, the good news: More than 99% of Novant Health employees, across 15 hospitals, 800 clinics and hundreds of outpatient facilities, have been vaccinated against COVID-19. And the few who have been granted religious or medical exemptions (the number has not been disclosed, but they appear to be under 100) will undergo weekly testing and will be required to wear protective gear when around others, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported Tuesday.
This puts Novant in good company with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and Greensboro’s Cone Health, whose employee vaccination rates and vaccination policies are similar.
“By making the vaccine mandatory … we are taking reasonable steps to make sure that our teammates — many of whom remain on the frontlines, interacting directly with people who have COVID — are protected and available to care for members of the community as we deal with the next phases of the pandemic,” Baptist said in a statement.
That means that patients who count on these networks can do so with a high degree of confidence. In-house infections generated by medical personnel are extremely unlikely.
But we’re still disappointed that some area health care workers have chosen to be fired rather than receive life-saving COVID vaccines.
Between 175 and 200 Novant Health employees have been fired for refusing to comply, the Journal reported. That’s about 1% of the system’s total workforce.
It’s better, of course, that health care workers who could infect the very COVID patients they’re treating — and patients with other ailments — be removed. But it would be better yet for them to take the necessary steps to continue providing care. Medical personnel are seriously overworked and short-handed right now and every able body would help.
But that’s their choice.
Some will doubtless think the firing unjust, especially for those who have previously done their jobs conscientiously.
We also appreciate their caring hearts.
But more than that is needed from medical professionals. They need to understand the scientific method. They need to understand how to assess and absorb data. Their heads as well as their hearts need to be engaged for their patients’ — and co-workers’ — benefit.
Some will say that those who choose to remain unvaccinated are being persecuted.
But despite many of the offensive analogies anti-vaxxers have espoused — comparisons to segregation and even the Holocaust, God help them — this is not a civil rights issue; it’s a public health issue. Being Black or Jewish is not a choice, nor is it communicable — but remaining unvaccinated is a choice and is potentially deadly.
Some of these workers could be victims of the political disinformation campaigns that are plaguing our society. They are campaigns so pervasive that they have, unfortunately, infected even medical, legal and teaching professionals who should know better.
One would think the sheer numbers alone would be convincing — the fact that between 90% and 94% of current COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths involve people who haven’t been vaccinated, while millions upon millions have been vaccinated, mostly with no ill effects — including many conservative religious and political figures.
But if they’re unable to free themselves and prioritize public health, a career change is well justified.
No time is a good time to be unemployed, especially not in the state that offers the least generous unemployment benefits and most stringent requirements. On top of that, congressional Republicans are once again playing games with the debt limit, which could have devastating consequences for the economy. They’ve not hesitated to let the economy collapse before — nor have they suffered greatly for doing so — so we don’t know what would stop them this time. We should all brace ourselves.
But on the other hand, we hear that employers are hiring and some of them are even promising to pay living wages. There may be no better time for a career change.
We believe in personal freedom — but we also believe in personal responsibility. It would simply be irresponsible to put people with risky health practices in charge of caring for people whose health is at risk.
Cone Health originally set a vaccine deadline of Oct. 1, but that’s been extended to Oct. 28. Atrium Health’s deadline is Oct. 31. They mean business. Reluctant employees should rethink their positions.