ST. JOHNSBURY — They call themselves “Health Choice Vermont,” but when a small group of protesters set up in front of Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital on Tuesday they brought a much harder message.
“THIS IS FORCED GENOCIDE,” read one sign held by a protester and “NO! MANDATE FOR MEDICINE especially when DEATH is a possible side effect!” read another.
The group is concerned about the hospital’s plan to require COVID-19 vaccinations for NVRH medical providers and staff - if the vaccine receives full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Waitsfield-based organization announced the NVRH demonstration in a press release on Monday which noted that it would be a “gathering of concerned healthcare providers and others at the Northern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury, to support the rights of hospital employees in making their own, informed and private, health-care decisions.”
One of the participants at the protest was Alison Despathy - who has also written a letter to the NVRH administration.
“Offer your employees an alternative so they can continue the work they love,” wrote Despathy. “Mandating (vaccinations) for your dedicated, brave and hard-working employees would be a monumental mistake that will be impossible to take back…”
NVRH officials responded with their own press release on Monday saying they are “choosing health” and that their priority is to protect patients, staff and the community from COVID-19 and the “Delta” variant of the virus which is currently driving-up positive cases in Vermont and the United States.
“The bottom line for me is that people come to their local hospital expecting not to be exposed to a higher probability of becoming infected with COVID-19 or any of its variants,” said NVRH Board Chair Jane Arthur, according to the NVRH release. “We owe it to our community to provide this level of safety when people are at their most vulnerable.”
NVRH CEO Shawn Tester said that as the Delta variant takes hold in Vermont, NVRH must do all it can to defend against the virus.
“It’s important to recognize that we are not out of the woods yet,” said Tester. “Thank-you to our amazing staff for all the work they are doing, especially those who are still working the frontline in this fight…”
And NVRH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Rousse, M.D., said the current “fourth wave” of COVID-19 is largely due to an increase in Delta variant cases which is “impacting mostly unvaccinated individuals” throughout much of the U.S.
“Policies change as the situation warrants,” said Dr. Rousse. “NVRH strives to keep our patients and staff safe and infection-free.”
NVRH says more than 50 health care societies and organizations nationally have called for all health care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. NVRH will be developing its vaccine policy in the coming weeks and will share the full plan with staff and the public when it’s complete.
NVRH serves more than 30,000 patients in the Northeast Kingdom and employs 600 people.