A Houston, Texas, hospital has suspended 178 of its staff members who have refused to abide by its mandate that employees be fully vaccinated by Monday.
Nearly 25,000 of Houston Methodist’s staff members have been fully inoculated against Covid-19 as part of a vaccination requirement announced in April, according to a statement Tuesday from Houston Methodist President Dr. Marc Boom.
But the 178 unvaccinated employees who did not obtain religious or medical exemptions were suspended without pay, including 27 who are only partially vaccinated.
“We won’t have the final numbers for two weeks as employees can still get vaccinated with their second dose or with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Boom’s statement said. “I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first.”
There are 285 unvaccinated employees who received a medical or religious exemption, and another 332 who were granted deferrals.
Boom’s statement went on to say that he understood that for some employees it was a “very difficult decision” to get the vaccine, but that they did the right thing in order to protect “our patients, your colleagues, your families, and our community.”
“The science proves that the vaccines are not only safe, but necessary if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19,” Boom said. “The mRNA technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines isn’t new or experimental. It’s been around for many years.”
Amanda Rivera, an emergency room nurse, told NBC affiliate KPRC that she is among the suspended employees and faces termination if she refuses to comply.
“I feel like they kind of bullied us into this little corner like you have to do it or you don’t have a job. This is my only source of income,” Rivera said.
A lawsuit was filed by 117 employees at the end of May against the hospital, which argued that Covid-19 vaccines were “experimental” and that Houston Methodist could not force an employee “to accept an FDA unapproved vaccine on penalty of termination or other sanctions.”
“None of the currently available experimental vaccines for COVID-19 has received final approval from the FDA,” the lawsuit stated.
There are three Covid-19 vaccines in the U.S. — manufactured by Pfizer, Modern and Johnson & Johnson — which have received emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots a few weeks apart while the Johnson & Johnson is a single inoculation.
Jared Woodfill, the attorney who filed the lawsuit in Montgomery County, said he intends to file with the state court. Woodfill maintains that the hospital violated the law by requiring its employees to take a vaccine that has not received full approval and that his clients are threatened with termination following the suspension.
“Essentially, Dr. Boom is requiring my clients to serve as human guinea pigs and if they’re not they’re taken to the door… there’s no choice, it’s all about coercion, all about pressure,” Woodfill said.
He added that the idea of Covid-19 vaccine mandates is “a question that needs to be answered not just for my clients, but for hospitals and employers everywhere.” Woodfill accused Boom of putting profits over people in his decision in an effort to brand the hospital as the first to mandate vaccines for its employees.
“It’s clearly about the bottom line but not about the people who put their lives on the line,” Woodfill said. “This is how they’re repaid, with a pink slip.”
The Equal Opportunity Commission said in a guidance issued last month that federal guidelines do not prohibit employers from requiring the Covid-19 vaccines so long as there are reasonable accommodations made under the American Disabilities Act.