FOND DU LAC – Although a group of health care workers opposed to a COVID-19 vaccine requirement expected about a hundred employees to protest Wednesday outside Agnesian HealthCare, only a handful participated, a spokesperson for the health care system said.
Carrying signs and waving American flags, an estimated 30 people showed up outside St. Agnes Hospital to support the newly formed group, Healthcare Employees For Medical Freedom of Fond du Lac County.
The group opposes the mandate requiring they receive a COVID-19 vaccine, approved under the federal emergency use authorization.
The walkout, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., was attended for the most part by people not employed with the health care system, said Shelly Haberman, senior communications consultant at Agnesian, a member of SSM Health.
The group’s spokesperson, Jennifer Lucas, a physical therapist with Agnesian HealthCare in Fond du Lac, could not immediately be reached for comment after the protest. She said earlier the vaccine mandate violates their rights to medical privacy and autonomy.
The majority of SSM Health employees overwhelmingly support the vaccine mandate, Haberman said.
“Currently, 81% of our employees in Wisconsin are fully vaccinated; however, we recognize there are some employees who oppose the mandate and we respect their rights to peacefully participate in protest,” Haberman said Wednesday.
She said she was not aware of any staff who walked out during a shift and the health care provider did not experience any impact on its services.
SSM Health was the first health care system in the state to institute a vaccine requirement for its employees to help prevent further spread and mutations of the virus.
“We have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of our teams, patients, their loved ones and the most vulnerable among us in the communities we serve,” Haberman said.
Lucas and the group believes it’s unfair that refusal to receive a vaccine would result in a loss of employment. She expects the group to grow in number over the next few weeks as the deadline to receive the vaccine approaches.
On June 28, SSM Health notified its nearly 40,000 employees, providers and volunteers across the system’s four-state service area that they needed to be fully vaccinated by the end of September — ahead of the annual cold and influenza season, which could lead to a rapid rise in respiratory viral infections.
“We are not antivaxxers, but we feel this is a personal choice,” Lucas said previously. “We can ask for a medical or religious exemption, but those are given out under much scrutiny, and several people have had them denied.”
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