Wellstar health care employees protest COVID-19 vaccine mandate

A group of Wellstar health care workers are pushing back against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate recently implemented by the health system. Wellstar is one of several hospitals across the state to put that requirement in place.

Employees held a Stop the Mandate protest in Marietta on Wednesday morning. Close to 150 people gathered outside Wellstar Health System’s corporate offices on Sawyer Road. Many in the rally said it was unconstitutional to force the vaccine on anyone, but possibly illegal.

"When COVID became bad, I was there five times a week, pulling extra shifts, taking care of COVID patients, I know this disease is horrible, I’m on the front line, and I know it still is a threat, but guess what, the vaccines are not working," said Wellstar staff nurse Renee Erbe.

Gubernatorial candidate and former state representative Vernon Jones was also at the protest. He said he was there to support the employees and others.

"We just want to talk about the impact that this is having on nurses and their personal lives, and their personal health and even financially because if they decide if they don't decide to take the vaccination, they are fired, they are fired and that's not right," said Jones.

Gubernatorial candidate and former state representative Vernon Jones attends a Stop the Mandate rally in front of the Wellstar Health System headquarters in Marietta on Aug. 18, 2021. (FOX 5)

"We know that when we’re at the bedside caring for your family, that you are concerned we are not vaccinated, but there are measures we are taking, we are wearing masks, we are handwashing, we are using appropriate PPE which are the face shields, gowns, gloves, shoe-coverings, whatever we can do," one nurse told FOX 5’s Doug Evans during last week’s protest. "We’re getting temperature checks at the door every shift. We’re even willing to take a COVID test every day that we work if need be."

The rally comes a week after some health care workers took to the sidewalks outside Wellstar Spalding Hospital in Griffin to protest their company’s vaccine mandate. All employees are to get the shot by October 1. These workers said Wellstar is threatening to fire them if they don’t.

"If all of these people lose their jobs, there’s no one to care for your family or my family, and that’s from our heart today," that same nurse said.

Wellstar Health System sent a statement to FOX 5 last week. The first paragraph states the company respects the rights of its employees to voice their concerns peacefully. Wellstar said it’s committed to providing a safe forum to hear and address their concerns.

The statement went on to say: "The best protection we currently have against the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic is vaccination, especially as we experience a concerning and rapid increase in cases and hospitalizations from the COVID-19 Delta variant."

Similar protests are in the works in the coming days. Protestors maintain that the vaccine should be a choice, not a mandate.

Georgia’s case count continues to rise, with the seven-day rolling average climbing above 7,041 on Wednesday, the worst since Jan. 26, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals is also rising rapidly, exceeding 4,760 even as many hospital executives warn they don’t have enough beds and staff to care for surging patients loads.

Vaccinations in Georgia this week surpassed 9.3 million doses with 46.9% of those eligible to receive the vaccine considered fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number lags behind the national average of 59.6%

The Delta variant now accounts for more than 90% of new cases across the state, health officials said.

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