DALLAS (AP) — More than 150 employees at a Houston hospital system who refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine were fired or resigned after a judge
dismissed an employee lawsuit
over the requirement.
According to a spokesperson for the Houston Methodist hospital
system, 153 employees either resigned or were fired on Tuesday during the two-week suspension period.
The case over how far health care
institutions can go to protect patients and others from the coronavirus
has been closely watched; it is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States
, but it will not be the last word.
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by 117 employees earlier this month over the requirement, making the hospital system the first major U.S. health care system to do so.
The Houston Methodist employees who filed the lawsuit compared their situation to medical experiments conducted on unwilling victims in Nazi
concentration camps during World War II
. U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes called that comparison "reprehensible," and said claims in the lawsuit that the vaccines are experimental and dangerous are false.
Hughes, who dismissed the lawsuit on June 12, stated that if the employees did not like the requirement, they could go work
Those who filed the lawsuit have already appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the judge's dismissal.
The hospital system had required employees to complete their immunizations by June 7. The next day, 178 employees were suspended without pay for two weeks for failing to comply.
Jennifer Bridges, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against Houston Methodist, said her director called her Tuesday to ask if she'd gotten the vaccine or made any effort to get it, and when she replied "absolutely not," she was told she was fired.
“We all knew we were going to be fired today,” Bridges, 39, said. “We knew we were going to be fired today unless we took that shot to come back. There were no ifs, ands, or buts.”
She had worked at Houston Methodist's hospital in the Baytown suburb of Houston for 612 years in the medical-surgical in-patient unit.
Bridges also mentioned that Tuesday was her first day at her new job with a company that sends nurses
“I’m hoping that if we win this at the federal level, they’ll pass laws to protect employees from having to go through this anywhere else in the country,” Bridges said, adding that she is skeptical of the vaccine’s safety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
, despite a small number of reported health issues, COVID-19 vaccines
are both safe and effective.
Other hospital systems across the country, including those in Washington
, and, most recently, New York
, have followed Houston Methodist's lead, but have received criticism as well.
Legal experts believe that such vaccine requirements, particularly in times of public health
crisis, will be upheld in court as long as employers provide reasonable exemptions, such as for medical conditions or religious objections.
According to Harris Methodist, some employees were granted medical or religious exemptions, while others were deferred due to pregnancy
or other factors.
However, Houston Methodist President
Marc Boom stated that nearly 25,000 of the system's more than 26,000 employees have received full COVID-19 vaccinations
“You did the right thing; you protected our patients, your colleagues, your families, and our community. The science
shows that the vaccines are not only safe, but also necessary if we are to turn the corner against COVID-19,” Boom said in a statement to employees.