Battle over vaccine mandates continues as workers suspended/face termination

Cowlitz County supports citizens’ rights to oppose coerced vaccination as PeaceHealth suspends workers

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler’s office shared with Clark County Today that Congress has allocated approximately $250 billion for the development and distribution of vaccines. Some of that money was allocated for COVID testing and public health mitigation efforts. People don’t have to pay for the vaccine.

Recently, the FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech two-shot vaccine, now named Comirnaty. According to the Washington Department of Health (DOH), it is the same as the vaccine previously approved under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) authority and they can be used interchangeably. 

“The vaccine is available now in Washington, as it is the same formulation as that under EUA. Providers will continue to use and order the same stock as always so they already have it in their freezers. But an important clarification: it is available for anyone, not just for citizens. Citizenship status is not checked or required to receive the vaccine,” according to the DOH.

Yet none of that money, nor the FDA approval has reduced the public tension or many citizens’ concerns regarding the vaccines. Gov. Jay Inslee issued a vaccine mandate for all public employees, for teachers, childcare and healthcare workers. 

Many people are reluctant to “get the jab.” Over 1,000 people protested the governor’s mandate in Olympia last Saturday. Hundreds have protested multiple times in Vancouver’s Esther Short Park.

Citizens protest in Vancouver against the Gov. Jay Inslee mandate, and PeaceHealth’s decision that all their workers get the vaccination. Yesterday PeaceHealth put employees that had not complied on unpaid leave. Photo courtesy of Jessica Wilkinson
Citizens protest in Vancouver against the Gov. Jay Inslee mandate, and PeaceHealth’s decision that all their workers get the vaccination. Yesterday PeaceHealth put employees that had not complied on unpaid leave. Photo courtesy of Jessica Wilkinson

“The fact that one of those experimental concoctions has received FDA approval makes absolutely no difference in my decision to decline the injection,” said a Cowlitz county citizen. She has been told she will be terminated if she doesn’t get the vaccination.

Vancouver’s PeaceHealth originally reported that 80 percent of their workers were vaccinated. Yet hundreds of their employees have protested the Aug. 31 deadline the company set. 

As the largest employer in Southwest Washington, an estimated 700 to 900 PeaceHealth employees are impacted by the deadline. Whereas other hospitals like Kaiser Permanente have accepted and accommodated religious and medical exemptions and even extended deadlines for their employees, PeaceHealth reportedly has not. 

“They have made no attempts at reasonable accommodations for exempted employees, including staff that tried the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and suffered an anaphylactic reaction,” stated Melissa Kolb, a PeaceHealth employee of 29 years. “Housekeeping, supplies, and caregivers are at an all-time low and PeaceHealth is willingly putting the community at risk because of their hard position on this mandate.”

Cowlitz County Commission

A charge nurse at PeaceHealth St. John’s Medical Center in Longview recently revealed at a Cowlitz County Commissioner meeting that 33 percent of hospitalizations on the COVID floor at the hospital are fully vaccinated individuals. She said that hospitalized patients ebb and flow and there were times where 100 percent of the patients on the floor were vaccinated individuals.

Her husband owns a business in Woodland. She has had COVID. Her husband who is older and has comorbidities, did not get it. She now has natural immunity.

Her perspective is that the vaccine does not work. “We are having many breakthrough cases. The vaccine is not working the way it was designed to work.”

She mentioned that the Longview facility has had staffing shortages going back to March, and it’s not just COVID patients causing the problem.

Another citizen pointed out that Israel has a 90 percent vaccination level, and yet is experiencing a significant outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID. Current cases are higher than last January’s peak, in spite of the vaccinations. Israel’s Grim COVID Data Suggests Vaccines Alone Won’t Stop Pandemic reads one headline.

As of Mon., Aug. 23, the Longview hospital had 39 COVID-19 inpatients, up from 24 a week prior. The hospital increased its COVID-19 unit on the fourth floor from 20 to 32 beds earlier this month. St. John’s staff recently began to transform eight intensive care unit (ICU) rooms into COVID-19 isolation units, according to a press release from the hospital.

Michael Clevenger shared that his healthy 27-year-old niece spent three days in the hospital and almost died after receiving her first vaccine injection. She had an 84 percent oxygen saturation level. Today, she has permanent lung damage and cannot enjoy hiking and other activities she loved before receiving the first shot. He also shared that a fellow worker spent two days in the hospital, experiencing kidney failure the day after receiving his vaccination shot. 

Following nearly five hours of public input and debate at two meetings, the Cowlitz County Council passed two resolutions Tuesday, opposing vaccine mandates. The first stated the board will not require any vaccination as a condition of employment for county employees who are hired and managed by the board and its non-elected departments   The second resolution states the board “supports citizens’ rights to oppose coerced vaccination in Cowlitz County.”

On Wednesday, PeaceHealth said more than 94 percent of PeaceHealth caregivers had met the employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement. Those who did not were placed on unpaid leave, according to the organization.

The Washington State Nurses Association on Aug. 20 filed an unfair labor practice against PeaceHealth because of its “unilateral decision” to place workers who received a medical or religious exemption on leave without bargaining with the union, said Ruth Schubert, association spokesperson.

Washington state ferry employees are now planning “sick outs” to protest the governor’s mandate. WSDOT says that the reservation system has been shut down ahead of the planned protests. Other transportation workers who repair roads have protested around the state as “stop the vaccine mandate” becomes a rallying cry.

FDA approves booster shot

Recently, the FDA approved giving certain “at risk” patients a third injection to boost their immune systems response to the current surge of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA Commissioner shared that there are breakthrough cases, where vaccinated individuals are coming down with COVID-19. There are breakthroughs across the age spectrum, including young people, he said. “You’re seeing it more pronounced in older individuals who are vaccinated.”

Israel has one of the largest percentages of vaccinated people in the world. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the country shows 86 percent of new cases from July 4 - 31 were fully vaccinated individuals. Graphic by Jennifer Margulis
Israel has one of the largest percentages of vaccinated people in the world. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the country shows 86 percent of new cases from July 4 – 31 were fully vaccinated individuals. Graphic by Jennifer Margulis

Gottlieb shared that the CDC is not tracking breakthrough cases, so you have to look at data from Israel or the UK. 

“This is really the debate among the public health crowd, because what they say is, maybe we don’t need boosters, because the vaccines are still doing their job in terms of protecting people from getting hospitalized, developing severe disease. 

“The premise never was that they were going to prevent all infections,” he said. “We just took for granted that the early data showed that the vaccines were very effective at preventing infections.”

A new national survey, conducted between August 18 and 25, found that by the fourth quarter of 2021, over half (52 percent) of employers could have one or more vaccine mandate requirements in the workplace. These range from requiring vaccination for employees to access common areas such as cafeterias to requiring vaccination for all employees. This is a dramatic increase from the current 21 percent.

Washington state employees and health care workers are now required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or potentially lose their jobs.

Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s Employment Security Department, also said people who refuse to get the vaccine and then get fired may not qualify for unemployment.

Many have said based on past Supreme Court rulings, the governor’s move is constitutional. Per a 1905 ruling — which has been upheld many times — the Supreme Court decreed governments can impose compulsory vaccination laws “necessary for public health and safety.”

Others point out what the Supreme Court upheld was a law passed by the Massachusetts legislature which mandated a smallpox vaccination. That didn’t happen in Washington. “Whoever, being over twenty-one years of age and not under guardianship, refuses or neglects to comply with such requirement shall forfeit $5,” states the case. That $5 in 1902 would be $159 today.

The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop Inslee’s vaccine mandate from going into effect after the state and the union failed to reach a bargaining agreement. They represent approximately 47,000 civil service employees.

Jessica Hofer Wilkinson contributed to this report. Wilkinson is a freelance writer, home educator and mother of four and nursing home chaplain. She resides in Clark County.

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