Healthcare Workers Among Rally Against Vaccine Mandates Days after St. Luke’s, Essentia Announce Policies

Earlier in the week, St. Louis County Public Health pointed to those who still aren't vaccinated for the recent surge in community spread.

DULUTH, Minn.- Dozens of protesters from across the Northland, including several area healthcare workers, held a rally against COVID-19 vaccine mandates Saturday just days after Duluth hospitals announced new vaccine requirements, and as experts warn the country needs to boost vaccine numbers now more than ever.

“This is an anti-mandate rally. I think we have people here that believe in vaccines, don’t believe in vaccines and that’s everybody’s right,” said Evan Janson, organizer and a healthcare worker who did not wish to disclose whether he worked at St. Luke’s or Essentia Health.

The crowd, participants told FOX 21, was made up of several healthcare workers from both St. Luke’s and Essentia, as well as some miners from the Iron Range.

The hospitals, two of Duluth’s largest employers, announced new vaccine policies Wednesday. Two days earlier, St. Louis County Public Health recommended masks be worn in all indoor public settings again, pointing to those who still aren’t vaccinated for the surge in community spread.

Essentia employees and other contractors who work inside the facilities must get the first dose by October 1st, and the second by November 1st.

At St. Luke’s, all hospital staff and vendors need to get the first dose by September 1st and the second dose by October 1st.

“When does it end? When does it end? Do we get the booster forced on us in a month?” Janson said. “With something that has risks, it is not ok to force anything, but especially something that has risks it is not ok to mandate.”

Both St. Luke’s and Essentia have two exceptions to the rule. Workers can request to skip the vaccine because of medical or religious reasons.

Essentia says it will discipline or even fire employees who refuse to get the vaccine.

Regarding discipline measures, a spokesperson for St. Luke’s told FOX 21, “employees will be deemed to have voluntarily resigned their position.”

“So I’m not able to participate in society like a person who got a vaccine,” said Janson.

“I hope we can get to a common place where, whether people believe in it or not, we have that common understanding that civil rights, the constitution, trumps any mandate for any reason,” he said.

Meanwhile the co-president and CEO of St. Luke’s Hospital, Dr. Nick Van Deelen, released a statement to FOX 21. It reads:

“We are committed to keeping our patients and staff safe and protecting our workforce so we are available to provide for the healthcare needs of our region. The large majority of our staff is in support of vaccination and the science is clear. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective and need to be used along with masking and distancing.”

A spokesperson with Essentia Health also sent us a statement which reads:

“Essentia Health respects our colleagues’ right to free speech. Many patients we are privileged to serve come to us with compromised immune systems and live with chronic diseases. We are called to protect these vulnerable patient populations from infections that can be devastating and deadly. As part of our Aspirational Aim of Zero Preventable Harm, to protect our patients, co-workers, and ourselves, we believe it is critically important that all who can receive the vaccine do so, especially health care workers whose duty it is to protect the vulnerable, elderly and critically ill. Patients want to know whether their care providers are vaccinated against COVID-19. We believe in being as transparent as possible and would like to be role models in demonstrating that vaccines have proven to be the safest way out of this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the United States crossed 100,000 new confirmed daily infections Saturday for the first time since last winter’s surge.

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