ST. GEORGE — Several hundred protesters gathered on Saturday in opposition to the federal vaccine mandate that will require all eligible health care workers to be immunized by January 4.
A crowd of community residents, health care workers and even out-of-town visitors lined up on both sides of River Road in front of St. George Regional Hospital, with some participants driving back and forth along the road in vehicles bearing signs and cheering on their fellow demonstrators.
Michelle Tanner, who was recently elected to the St. George City Council, helped to organize the protest. As a contracted nurse working part-time at the hospital, she said she was notified of the impending mandate about a week ago.
“I asked my boss if they would be acknowledging natural immunity, and I was met with the response that ‘If you’re not vaccinated, we will work on getting your shifts covered,’” Tanner said. “I’m basically being fired for making a personal health decision even though I have natural immunity…from having the disease earlier.”
Tanner worked with fellow organizers and hospital nurses Daniel and Lindsey Guercio to contact local groups opposed to mandates and spread word of the protest on social media.
Lindsey Guercio said she was pleased with the overall response, and especially happy to see that many hospital employees joined the demonstration.
“It needs to be made very clear that it’s not about anti-vaccination, it’s about our civil rights as U.S. citizens,” she said. “The federal government is making a complete overreach. For people to tell us what to do with our bodies is completely against everything. We have the right to vaccinate or not.”
On Thursday, the Biden-Harris administration announced the rule requiring vaccination for eligible staff in all facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. According to the federal agency in charge of enforcing the regulation, the requirements will apply to approximately 76,000 health care providers and over 17 million employees.
According to press release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the new rule was instituted to better protect patients and health care workers, with the indirect benefit of reducing strain on a health care system that has been severely challenged by the pandemic
To date, COVID-19 has claimed over 750,000 American lives including 3,286 Utahns.
Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital released a statement about the new mandate and it’s intent to comply. A portion of the statement read as follows:
To not remain in compliance with the federal government rules would put at risk healthcare access for hundreds of thousands of people that Intermountain serves who rely on Medicare and Medicaid. Some of the most vulnerable in our community – including underserved populations, the elderly, and children – would not have their care covered. Remaining compliant with the federal government rule will enable us to continue to care for patients in our communities and help keep our caregivers as safe as possible, which is critical to our mission.
Tanner acknowledged the severity of the disease but said the issue lies in the response from the federal government and the one-size-fits-all solution enforced by the hospital.
“COVID-19 is absolutely a real disease – I’ve had it many of my family members have had it,” she said. “I’ve had a 39-year-old family member die from it. All this time I’ve recognized the severity and seriousness of COVID-19, but vaccination has to be an individual choice. Ultimately it’s a choice that should be made between an individual and their healthcare provider.”
The gathered protester bore signs comparing federal health policies to Communism, collectively shouted, “No jab, no job,” and asked passersby if they were patriots. The sentiment shared by all was fervent opposition to the federal mandate, with varying degrees of skepticism around the effectiveness of the vaccine and the severity of COVID-19.
Carol, who asked to be identified just by her first name, traveled from Richfield to join the protest after hearing about it through the Utah Patriots organization. She said she was doubtful about the testing for the COVID-19 vaccines and the rushed approval process, citing the possible side effects that some have experienced following vaccination.
One local resident, Molly Maurer, said this was the second protest she’d joined against the mandate following a demonstration earlier this week.
“I don’t think the government has any right to tell us what we can put in our body,” Maurer said. “I’ve had some concerns before this, but nothing of this magnitude. This really brings it to the forefront of what we stand to lose if we just allow our government to tell us what we have to do.”
St. George Regional Hospital, and the larger Intermountain Healthcare system, already requires vaccination for a number of diseases, including seasonal influenza, measles, mumps and German measles, tetanus and chicken pox.
While many employees did not object to earlier vaccination requirements, the pandemic has caused some to reconsider and even seek further exemptions. Jessica Gunn, a room service worker at the hospital, joined several of her coworkers in protesting the vaccine mandate.
“I think that they’ve crossed the line on trying to force us to do something that I feel is against the Constitution,” Gunn said. “My family and I got sick not too long ago, and we recovered from it. We have those antibodies in our system, so why should I put it back in my system?”
Gunn said she had previously complied with the hospital’s immunization requirements, including vaccination for the seasonal flu. However, she had only recently learned that the hospital allowed exemptions for religious belief or medical conditions and said she planned to seek exemptions in the future.
For more information about coronavirus pandemic and vaccination, visit the Southwest Utah Department of Health.
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