Houston Methodist is sidelining almost 200 workers for two weeks without pay for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The suspensions come a day after dozens protested the policy outside one of its medical centers in Baytown, Texas.  

The hospital system — a medical center and six community hospitals — had set a Monday deadline for all employees to be fully immunized against the coronavirus, with nearly 25,000 employees getting their shots in time, Dr. Marc Boom, Houston Methodist CEO told employees in a Tuesday memo emailed to CBS MoneyWatch. 

The hospital has suspended 178 workers for not fully complying with the policy, including 27 who had received one dose of vaccine, “So I am hopeful they will get their second doses soon,” Boom stated. 

The system previously set June 21 as the date unvaccinated workers would be terminated, without exemptions.

“The science proves that the vaccines are not only safe, but necessary if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19,” said Boom, who added that he understood the situation “may be difficult for some who are sad about losing a colleague who’s decided to not get vaccinated.”

Houston Methodist gave vaccinated workers a $500 bonus in March, while signaling the shots would not be voluntary for workers indefinitely. The health system has to do all it can to keep patients safe amid a pandemic, including having all staff vaccinated, Bloom told employees in his announcing the mandate in April.

Houston Methodist’s policy has spurred a court challenge by a group of unvaccinated workers, who claimed they are being used as “human guinea pigs” in a complaint filed by Houston-area lawyer and conservative activist Jared Woodfill.

The medical system’s stance is also playing out in a state where the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, on Monday signed into law a measure that prohibits businesses or government entities from requiring proof of vaccination. It’s not clear what the new law means for employer mandates, and Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment. 

“It is legal for health care institutions to mandate vaccines, as we have done with the flu vaccine since 2009,” Houston Methodist said in a statement recently bolstered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s stance that employers are allowed to require COVID-19 vaccines.

The federal government is not mandating vaccination, but “for some health care workers or essential employees, a state or local government or employer, for example, may require or mandate that workers be vaccinated as a matter of state or other law,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

“As the first hospital system to mandate COVID-19 vaccines, we were prepared for this,” Boom stated. “As of today, several other major health care centers have followed our lead and have announced their own vaccine mandates, with many more to follow soon.” 

That includes the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which is requiring all employees be vaccinated by September 1, 2021. More than 33,000 of approximately 44,000 workers are fully vaccinated, UPHS said in announcing its mandate late May.

In a similar vein, two major U.S. airlines, United and Delta, recently said they won’t hire unvaccinated workers. 

This content was originally published here.

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