Colorado health care workers protest vaccine mandates as a condition of employment

AURORA, Colo. — A group of health care workers stood outside UCHealth’s Anschutz campus Monday morning to protest vaccine mandates as most of the large health-care groups in the state begin requiring the shot as a condition of employment.

“We’ve done and advocated for our patients, and it’s time to advocate for ourselves,” UCHealth registered nurse Stephanie Thorpe said.

She’s hoping to get a religious exemption by Oct. 1. That’s when the hospital system will begin disciplining, even firing, workers who aren’t vaccinated against the disease.

“It doesn’t have anything really to do with the vaccine itself. It’s about, you know, being told by your employer that you don’t have the right to your own body. And that’s wrong,” Thorpe said.

As of Monday, at least 90% of UCHealth’s employees were vaccinated. Dr. Michelle Barron, the medical director of infection control and prevention at the hospital, expects that number to rise to 99% by the October deadline.

“Obviously, the goal is 100%, and it’ll probably be like 99% because of the exemptions potentially in there,” Dr. Barron said.

Requiring health care workers to get vaccines isn’t anything new. In recent years, Dr. Barron says workers statewide had to get the flu shot, along with any other vaccine required for employment, like mumps and measles.

But even then, people put their body over their job.

“We did go through the termination process. Luckily, there wasn’t that many. It was under ten people at that time. But we still did this,” Dr. Barron said.

Another protester, Kinley Queen Thompson, an LPN at Vivage, says she’s not anti-vaccine. She’s just seeking a medical exemption for this one because she considers it an “experimental drug” that can do harm to her health.

“I’m 35 years old. I have young children at home that I need to take care of and be there for,” Thompson said.

Even if the vaccines get the full FDA stamp of approval, she still won’t get it.

“They’re trying to coerce us into doing it,” she said.

Dr. Barron believes that final approval won’t change much.

“I don’t think the FDA stamp of approval would have changed my mind in terms of what the safety data has already shown us, that it is safe, it is highly effective, and it is the way we are going to get ourselves out of this pandemic,” she said.

As the deadline approaches, the remaining unvaccinated UCHealth workers have just eight weeks to get the shots, ask for an exemption, or risk losing their jobs.

Janelle B. Smith

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