Houston Methodist, which is ranked as one of the top 20 hospitals in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, will require all 26,000 employees to receive the vaccine by June 7 or be subject to termination, the hospital’s spokesperson, Stephanie Asin, told The Texan.
So far, almost 90 percent of the hospital’s workforce have been vaccinated, Asin added.
The vaccination requirement was first applied to management then extended to other employees.
“It is rather simple — as health care workers we must do everything possible to keep our patients safe and at the center of everything we do. Mandating the vaccine was not a decision we made lightly, but science has proven that the COVID-19 vaccines are very safe and very effective,” Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of the hospital, said in an employee email.
Recently use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was paused while adverse events from blood clots were examined. The vaccine was reinstated with the following warning, “However, women younger than 50 years old should be aware of the rare but increased risk of this adverse event and that there are other COVID-19 vaccine options available for which this risk has not been seen.”
Employees who object to receiving the vaccine may apply for a religious or medical exemption, Asin said, including pregnant women who can defer the vaccine until they are no longer pregnant.
According to health care attorney and former state representative Matt Rinaldi, “While Houston Methodist is certainly free to encourage its employees to be vaccinated, federal law prohibits employers from requiring the vaccine, at least until it is formally approved by the [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)].”
He went on to explain that the same section of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that authorizes the FDA to grant emergency use authorization also states that individuals have “the option to accept or refuse administration of the product.”
“In addition, FDA guidance on emergency use authorization (EUA) also requires the FDA to ensure every individual is informed of his or her option to accept or refuse the EUA product,” Rinaldi pointed out, adding that in August, Dr. Amanda Cohn, CDC Executive Secretary on Immunization Practices clarified that under an EUA, “vaccines are not allowed to be mandatory.”
Jackie Schlegel, executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, said that they are getting dozens of reports daily about vaccines being required as a condition of employment, not just from Houston Methodist.
“I’ve received at least 60 reports in the last 24 hours,” Schlegel told The Texan, adding that she has heard reports about Driscoll Children’s Hospital and even a car dealership requiring vaccines as a condition of employment.
Texans for Vaccine Choice provides an information sheet on its website regarding employee vaccine exemption rights. Texas law requires health care facilities to include “procedures for employees to be exempt from the required vaccines for medical reasons” and that exempt employees “may not be discriminated or retaliated against.”
Schlegel was on her way to Austin to fight for stronger protections for employees.
“We are creating a second wave of hardship for families,” she pointed out. “This is their livelihood and how they provide for their families. And there is no protection in place if they are injured.”
In early April, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order that prohibited public entities from requiring vaccine documentation. “No consumer may be denied entry,” the order reads, “to a facility financed in whole or in part by public funds for failure to provide documentation regarding the consumer’s vaccination status for any COVID-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization.”
However, the order did not mention private businesses.
“It is a really tough position as Texans to be in,” Schlegel acknowledged. “We believe in the free market, but we also want to be careful about creating two classes of citizens: the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.”
Schlegel voiced the concerns of many Texans who wonder when vaccine mandates may shift to being enforced on consumers in order to participate in everyday life.
Senate Bill 968 by Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which was recently passed by the Senate and has moved to the House, addresses vaccine mandates. In its current form, it prohibits government entities from requiring vaccine passports for any purpose other than health care. It also prohibits businesses from requiring a vaccine passport for entry into or access to services from that business.
However, the bill does not protect employees from termination if they have concerns about the vaccine, including the lack of long-term vaccine data or possible injuries as a result of the vaccine.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services dashboard, about 48 percent of Texans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 injection. Recently, the state announced a $1.5 million marketing campaign to encourage Texans to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.