Workers push back against hospitals requiring COVID vaccines

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HOUSTON (AP) — Jennifer Bridges, a registered nurse in Houston, is steadfast in her belief that it’s wrong for her employer to force hospital workers like her to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or say goodbye to their jobs. But that’s a losing legal argument so far.

In a stinging defeat, a federal judge bluntly ruled over the weekend that if employees of the Houston Methodist hospital system don’t like it, they can go work elsewhere.

“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. Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else,” U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes wrote in dismissing a lawsuit filed by 117 Houston Methodist workers, including Bridges, over the vaccine requirement.

The ruling Saturday in the closely watched legal case over how far health care institutions can go to protect patients and others against the coronavirus is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. But it won’t be the end of the debate.

Bridges said she and the others will take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court if they have to: “This is only the beginning. We are going to be fighting for quite a while.”

And other hospital systems around the country, including in Washington, D.C., Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania and most recently New York, have followed Houston Methodist and have also gotten pushback.

Legal experts say such vaccine requirements, particularly in a public health crisis, will probably continue be upheld in court as long as employers provide reasonable exemptions, including for medical conditions or religious objections.

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