Hundreds of North Carolina Healthcare Workers Protest COVID Vaccination Mandate

Hundreds of people have staged a protest in North Carolina over Atrium Health's recent announcement that all employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The demonstration saw people march from Freedom Park to the Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte in protest against the decision. Those taking part in the rally include a large group of Atrium staff workers, alongside anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters.

Atrium Health, one of the biggest healthcare systems in Charlotte with more than 70,000 employees, recently announced that all staff members must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 31 in order to protect themselves and others amid surging cases of the Delta variant in the state and across the country.

Novant Health also said it would be requiring all its staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID by September 15.

Those who have an approved religious or medical exemption will not be required to have the vaccine.

On Sunday, protesters could be seen holding placards reading "my body my choice" with at least one person also seen holding a Nazi swastika during the march against Atrium Health's new coronavirus vaccination policy.

😳 THESE are people work in healthcare⁉️ pic.twitter.com/IpoHLP8Rhf

— Christopher 🇺🇸 Proud Dem (@cwebbonline) August 2, 2021

"At the end of the day, it's all about choice," nurse Cheryl Morneau told WBTV.

"It's a right. People died for our rights. It's not right to take that freedom away from us, we are people too. We sacrificed on the frontlines for over a year. Why don't we have the same rights as everyone else and as our patients do?"

Another Atrium Health employee at the protest, who wished to remain anonymous, said she is deciding not to get the vaccine just yet because she is pregnant and breastfeeding.

"As a breastfeeding mother, this mandate concerns me," she said. "The safety of all current COVID-19 vaccines in lactating people, the effects of vaccination on a breastfed baby, and the effects on milk production or excretion have not been studied. Neither myself or my colleagues should be forced to be a part of a clinical trial without our explicit informed consent, which gives us the right to choose."

Jane Nymberg, a registered nurse who has worked for Atrium for 25 years, said she is considering quitting her job if she is forced to get the vaccine.

"I'm not going to be forced to take an experimental vaccine that potentially could injure me or kill me. The chances of that are low. But if it happens, I will be responsible," she told WSOC.

The protest was peaceful, with no reports of any disorder or arrests stemming from the demonstration.

Atrium Health said requiring its employees to be vaccinated against COVID should not be viewed any differently than requiring staff to get annual flu shots, or ensure they are vaccinated for other infectious diseases, such as measles or chicken pox.

In a statement to local media regarding the planned protest, Atrium Health said: "Atrium Health has a long history of protecting the health of our patients, our teammates and the communities we serve.

"With the new and more contagious variants now causing hospitalizations to rise across our region, we are requiring teammates to be vaccinated against the virus—to avoid catching or spreading it to others in our hospitals or other clinical environments.

"Most doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are drawn to their profession because they want to help and care for other people—specifically to help them get and stay well and live longer, healthier lives. The new COVID-19 vaccine requirement is designed to do exactly that, since the science shows that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and continue to save countless lives.

"We greatly value all of our teammates who have shown such dedication to our patients, their loved ones and to each other during the pandemic, and we respect the rights of those who have chosen to have their voices heard in a peaceful and civil manner. Open communication is something we embrace at Atrium Health.

"We encourage our teammates to share any concerns they may have directly with their leaders if they have questions about our vaccination requirement."

Atrium Health vaccine protest
(File photo) Anti-vaccine activists hold up signs during a protest in front of the Massachusetts State House against Governor Charlie Baker's Covid mandate last year. Hundreds of people have protested in Charlotte, North Carolina against Atrium Health's announcement that all employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Scott Eisen/Getty Images