153 Texas hospital workers are fired or resign over mandatory vaccine policy

By Jesús Jiménez

More than 150 staff members at a Houston-area hospital were fired or resigned earlier this week for not following a policy that requires employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The hospital, Houston Methodist, had told employees that they had to be vaccinated by June 7 or face suspension for two weeks. Of the nearly 200 employees who had been suspended, 153 of them were terminated by the hospital Tuesday or had resigned, according to Gale Smith, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Smith said employees who had complied with the vaccine policy during the suspension period were allowed to return to work a day after they became compliant.

The hospital did not specify how many workers had complied and returned to work.

Earlier this month, dozens of employees who had not been vaccinated by Houston Methodist’s deadline protested outside the hospital against the mandatory vaccine policy.

The protest followed a now-dismissed lawsuit filed last month by 117 Houston Methodist employees against their employer over the vaccine policy. The workers’ lawsuit accused the hospital of “forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.”

Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who led the Houston Methodist protest, had cited the lack of full FDA approval for the shots as a reason she wouldn’t get vaccinated.

U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, in the Southern District of Texas, rejected a claim by Bridges, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, that the vaccines available for use in the United States were experimental and dangerous.

“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” Hughes wrote. “Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”

Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said the vaccine requirement was no different than other mandates for health care workers, like getting an annual flu shot, keeping up with immunizations and wearing hairnets.

He noted that some health care workers have been fired in the past for refusing to get flu shots and said that states like New York require it.

“Health care workers have three special ethical responsibilities,” Caplan said. “One is protect the vulnerable, people who are really at risk of a disease. Secondly, put patient interests for first. It doesn’t say, ‘put your choice first.’ Third, they’re supposed to do no harm.”

Caplan also condemned a comparison by the lead plaintiff in the Houston case, Bridges, between hospital workers and Nazi concentration camp prisoners.

He suggested that the hospital employees who refused to get vaccinated would be better off in a different line of work.

“It’s like you’re in the wrong job there, buddy,” he said.

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