Texas Standoff Illustrates Battle Over COVID Vaccines

May 28, 2021 — Houston Methodist made headlines in April when it told employees they would have to get vaccinated for COVID or be fired, becoming the first large medical system in the United States to mandate COVID vaccinations.

The policy has worked. About 98% of the 26,000 employees at Houston Methodist have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Stefanie Asin, director of public relations and communications at Houston Methodist.

Yet, the hospital’s strong stance has also ignited a war of words between management and wary frontline workers.

One of those workers, Jennifer Bridges, 39, a medical-surgical nurse, has spent much of the last year treating COVID patients. She has watched her fellow nurses get COVID. She’s even seen a couple of her co-workers die.

She’s held cell phones up to the ears of dying patients so family members could say their remote goodbyes. She zipped patients in body bags. She got COVID herself last July and says she still has antibodies from her own mild infection.

Despite the horrors visited on patients and colleagues by the virus, she says the vaccine scares her more. Even with her job on the line she has vowed not to take the shots.

Her case has been championed by conservatives and anti-vaccination groups.

She’s recently been profiled by national newspapers and been a featured guest on cable news. She’s testified before Texas legislators considering SB 1699, which would prevent employers from mandating vaccinations there. Similar bills are pending in several other states.

Bridges’ public standoff with her employer has shined a light on a growing debate about the best ways to nudge a nervous nation toward the return to normalcy offered by the vaccines.

The issue is especially fraught in health care, where surprisingly large pockets of hesitancy exist, and hospitals have found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to find a way to support wary and burnt-out workers while protecting vulnerable patients.

A March survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post of 1 300 frontline health care workers who have direct contact with patients found nearly half had not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.

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