Dozens protest vaccine mandate for Novant Health employees

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A large crowd gathered across the street from New Hanover Regional Medical Center on Thursday, demanding Novant Health rethink a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.

Dozens of demonstrators say the feel the decision to get vaccinated should be left up to individuals.

“We’re not anti-vaxxers out here,” said organizer Ken Willson. “We just think that everybody should be able to make that decision for themselves, especially folks that are in the health care profession that know this more than anybody.”

In July, Novant announced all workers would need to be vaccinated by September 15 unless they are approved for a religious or medical exemption.

“I know some folks that have gone that route and got religious exemptions, I know some folks that have had those rejected,” Willson said. “People are truly worried about what’s going to happen on the 15th or 16th, whether or not they will be truly terminated, they’ll be out of a job.”

In early June, Novant health said approximately 63 percent of its 8,000 staff members had been vaccinated. WWAY recently requested updated numbers, but were told they were not available.

A common opinion shared at Thursday’s rally was the desire for personal choice.

“They can give us accurate information, they can tell us about the virus, they can tell us about shots, and then we should have the choice,” said one participant who did not want to share her name.

“If you want to get the shot, get the shot, if you want to wear a mask, wear a mask, but don’t try to force it on people,” said Rocky Jeter Webb.

Some shared concerns about the safety of the vaccine. One participant told us their spouse was being forced to resign from the hospital for refusing the vaccine.

“Think about the people with pre-existing conditions that have medical problems,” said Jesse Long. “I’ve got multiple sclerosis, and for somebody to say that I need to put something in my body that is going to harm me, potentially even death, is unconstitutional.”

Novant Health released a statement in response to the rally, saying:

“We support the right of team members to peacefully gather on their own time. Our expectation is that patients come first for all Novant Health team members, and we do not support any team member abandoning patient care to participate in a planned demonstration.

Without a vaccine mandate for team members, we faced the strong possibility of having a third of our staff unable to work due to contracting COVID-19. This possibility only gets greater heading into a fall season with the more contagious and deadly Delta variant.  

As a large health care organization, we continually plan for an array of different scenarios that could have a sudden impact on our ability to provide safe, quality patient care. Staffing contingency plans include float and on-call pools, agency and other staff sourcing. It’s important for our communities to know that we have the continued ability to care for them, and that they should seek care when they need it.”

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