ATLANTA - Friday is the deadline for thousands of Georgia hospital workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Oct. 1 marks the deadline for Emory, Wellstar, and most Grady Health System employees to be fully vaccinated against the virus. New employees at the healthcare systems have already been required to be vaccinated before starting their jobs.
The news of the mandates for metro Atlanta-area hospital workers sparked protests over the summer.
Around 150 people gathered outside Wellstar's corporate office in August to rally against the vaccine mandate.
Some argued that the mandate was unconstitutional and an infringement of rights. Others went further, questioning whether the vaccines work.
"I'm a front-line worker. When COVID was real bad I was there five days a week, pulling extra shifts, taking care of COVID patients," Nurse Renee Erbe said. "I know this disease is horrible and I know it still is a threat, but guess what? Vaccines aren't working."
While healthcare leaders have acknowledged the concerns of its employees, they have cited the rise in COVID-19 cases and the effectiveness of the vaccines as a reason for the mandate.
Ambulances parked outside Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. (Eli Jordan, FOX 5 Atlanta / FOX 5 Atlanta)
"The pandemic hasn't gone away. News flash to everyone," Grady Chief Medical Officer Jansen said.
Jansen told FOX 5 the unvaccinated population has continued to have a ripple effect on hospitals.
"We resumed just about all surgical cases now. It’s so unfair. Think about it if you are a patient waiting for surgery it really is unfair you have to be postponed," he said.
For Grady employees, Friday marks the first phase of the mandate, which starts with management-level staff, doctors, and vendors and eventually will require all of their employees to be vaccinated.
As of Friday, health officials report over 5.6 million Georgians, or 54%, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Over 4.9 million Georgians, or 47% of the population, are fully vaccinated.