Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas has suspended over 170 employees for two weeks without pay, after they refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine. The suspensions come after a new May policy requiring all 26,000 workers to get full courses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines by June 7 or face termination.
The hospital says 99% of its employees - 24,947 - are fully vaccinated, however a group of 178 workers who have refused and have now been punished.
What happens after the two weeks is unknown, according to the Daily Mail.
Meanwhile, 117 employees are suing the hospital, claiming that they've been pressured into becoming 'human guinea pigs'.
Earlier this month, 117 employees sued Houston Methodist, claiming the hospital 'is forcing its employees to be human 'guinea pigs' as a condition for continued employment,' reported KHOU 11 last month.
They also claim coronavirus vaccines are 'experimental,' because they have only received emergency use authorization and not full U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
The federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in December 2020 that employers could legally set vaccine requirements for their workforce. -Daily Mail
"It is unfortunate that today's milestone of Houston Methodist becoming the safest hospital system in the country is being overshadowed by a few disgruntled employees," said CEO Marc Bloom, who added that 27 of the suspended workers have since received at least one dose of the vaccine.
"I know that today may be difficult for some who are sad about losing a colleague who's decided to not get vaccinated," Bloom continued. "We only wish them well and thank them for their past service to our community, and we must respect the decision they made."
Hospital staff were first given until mid-April before the deadline was extended to early June, with $500 bonus payments offered to employees who got vaccinated early. At the time, two employees chose to leave the hospital instead of getting vaccinated. Those with religious or health exemptions had until May 3 to apply for a waiver. According to the Washington Post, 285 employees were given medical exemptions, while 332 received medical deferrals.
"No one should be forced to put something into their body if they're not comfortable with it," nurse Jennifer Bridges told The Texan. Bridges has worked at Houston Methodist for over six years, and is leading the lawsuit.
"People trying to force you to put something into your body that you're not comfortable with, in order to keep your job, is just insane," she told KHOU11 last month, adding "I'm not an anti-vax person. If you want to get it, by all means, get it. I don't take that away from anybody Just let everybody have a choice and the right to make their own decision."
Bridges and the group of employees are being represented by Jared Woodfill from the Houston-based Woodfill Law Firm.
Woodfill told KHOU that his firm filed a declaration action, asking the court to declare the hospital's orders illegal.
He argues that the vaccine is an experimental product, and that it should not be legal to force employees to receive it.
'[The vaccine] that's been on the market for less than a year. And yes, it's being used under EUA, but at the same time, that is experimental by definition,' he said.
'You can't fire someone for refusing to do something illegal, and if you look at federal law, it makes it very clear that it's illegal to force someone to participate in a vaccine trial.' -Daily Mail
Bloom addressed the anti-vax employees two weeks ago, saying a statement: "It is unfortunate that the few remaining employees who refuse to get vaccinated and put our patients first are responding in this way," adding "It is legal for health care institutions to mandate vaccines, as we have done with the flu vaccine since 2009. The COVID-19 vaccines have proven through rigorous trials to be very safe and very effective and are not experimental."
Bridges, meanwhile, says she's waiting for the vaccine to receive full approval from the FDA before she takes it.