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Politics & Government

Hundreds Against Vaccine Mandates Tell Hospitals "Shame On You"

A few hundred community members, including some nurses and doctors, rallied at the Idaho Capitol Thursday morning to oppose local hospitals forcing their workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s health systems said last week all of their Idaho employees needed to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, or they could be fired. Religious and health exemptions would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

Several at the rally held signs in the hot sun Thursday saying, “We are nurses, not lab mice,” and “What if I have natural immunity?”

Some wore scrubs, but many more had on pro-Trump gear, or even pro-militia shirts, chanting, “My body, my choice.”

Dr. Samuel Petersen, a dentist in the Treasure Valley, compared forced vaccinations to rape.

“A rapist who threatens the life of their victim to obtain compliance is still a rapist,” Peterson said to cheers in the crowd.

Nurses or nursing students who spoke, who did not give their last names or share where they worked, said they shouldn’t be forced to take an “experimental” vaccine for a paycheck.

Three vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have received emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

Some also questioned the safety of the vaccine, citing unverified reports of adverse reactions listed in a federal database that anyone can contribute to.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been linked to rare cases of blood clots, and just this week, the FDA added a warning that this shot could cause a rare neurological condition that could lead to paralysis.

Regulators have also found very rare cases of heart inflammation for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The CDC says if such a condition is detected after the first dose, the second shot should be delayed.

Still, they say their recommendation hasn't changed that everyone eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine should.

Both Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s reaffirmed their new vaccine policy when asked for comment.

As of Thursday, 48.5% of Idahoans eligible to get a vaccine had gotten at least one dose compared to 65.1% of eligible Americans.

Shortly before the rally, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin again called on state lawmakers to reconvene in Boise and stop local healthcare providers from requiring their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“This idea of discriminating against and firing employees based on private and personal health decisions flies in the face of the principles of liberty and justice,” McGeachin said.

Rep. Tammy Nichols (R-Middleton), who also spoke, blasted senators and other lawmakers for blocking bills that would’ve halted vaccine or mask mandates.

“Burying our head in the sand has a long history of failure,” McGeachin said. “Now, we are behind, searching for solutions to address problems that could’ve been preempted.”

When asked if she supports Idaho’s at-will employment law that allows workers to quit or employers to fire someone at any time, McGeachin, who owns several businesses, said yes.

“However, as an employer, when it comes to me dictating my personal view on my employees, no matter what medical decision it is, that’s where I draw the line.”

She also didn’t definitively say whether she would issue an executive order to outlaw vaccine mandates if she were to become acting governor. McGeachin previously signed an executive order banning mask mandates, which was quickly reversed by Gov. Brad Little, who she’s challenging in next year’s gubernatorial primary.

Eighteen state lawmakers, who typically align politically with the far-right, support legislative efforts to bar vaccine mandates.

As of Wednesday, nearly 2,200 Idahoans have died from COVID-19. State officials have recorded more than 196,000 confirmed and probable cases.

Republican senators are meeting Friday to discuss the possibility of a special session. Speaker Scott Bedke said this week he wouldn’t unilaterally call the House back into session without the cooperation of the Senate.

Editor's note: Dr. Samuel Petersen's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. We apologize for the error.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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