More than a dozen people staged a rally in front of Altru Hospital along Columbia Road, in support of medical workers, who participants say should not be required to be vaccinated for the coronavirus.
The rally began at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16, when people showed up in dribs and drabs. By 5 p.m. that number grew to about 13 adults along with a handful of children. Some carried signs reading “No Vaccine Mandates,” and “Freedom Over Fear.” The rally appeared to be peaceful, as organizers intended it to be.
Organizer Beth Delgado said the group is not affiliated with any other group -- attendees said their group did not have a name -- but that they wanted to support medical workers at Altru who are required to get the coronavirus vaccine, something she thinks they should have the freedom to not do. Patients, she said, have rights, and can make choices about their care. She thinks the same should be true for health care workers.
“I feel like patients have those options as far as making decisions, and I feel like our health care workers should have the same availability to them,” Delgado said.
Delgado said, and a city employee confirmed, the group had a permit to stage the rally.
Janice Hamscher, chief nursing officer at Altru, said she thinks some people may misunderstand what Altru is requiring of its employees mandating they be vaccinated for the coronavirus. Employees have the ability to be exempt from the vaccinations, for religious, philosophical and medical reasons. Still, Hamscher said she respects the group’s right to stage a rally.
“We respect people's rights from the first amendment,” she said. “I will stand behind the science of vaccines, (which) prevent COVID and severe cases of COVID with hospitalization, based on our experience and what we've seen with others.”
In August, the health system announced that all employees must receive the vaccine by Nov. 15. Hamscher said about 80% of workers there have already gotten them. The remainder is made up of people who have not yet completed the series, or have not yet informed Altru they have received the shots, along with those who have applied for exemptions.
Hanscher said capacity at the hospital is “tight” because of the coronavirus, with 12 hospitalized patients, three of which are in critical care.
Meghan Compton, chief clinic operations officer, said the majority of patients being treated for coronavirus are not vaccinated.