ROCHESTER -- Chanting “Shame on Mayo” and singing patriotic songs, a large crowd marched around downtown Rochester on Monday morning, Oct. 25, to protest Mayo Clinic’s coming requirement that all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The crowd gathered in the Peace Plaza and marched around the block to chant in front of the Gonda Building before returning to the Peace Plaza.

The protest, organized online in a private Mayo Clinic employee discussion group, started at 9 a.m. with a dozen people with signs that quickly grew in number. By 10:30 a.m., the crowd had swelled to more than 100 people, possibly as many as 200.

Jason, who identified himself as a 15 year Mayo Clinic employee, stood in the Peace Plaza with his wife, year-old toddler and 12-year-old daughter as the crowd chanted, “Shame on Mayo.”

“Mayo is forcing everyone to get the vaccine. We’re facing termination. It seems like a breach of our freedoms as Americans to be forced to do stuff against our wishes,” said Jason, who declined to give his last name. Others involved in the protest also declined to fully identify themselves to the Post Bulletin.

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Mayo Clinic informed its employees of the requirement earlier this month. Aimed at some 9,000 of the clinic's 73,000 employees, the requirement takes effect Dec. 1. Employees who fail to get vaccinated by then, or who do not have a valid medical or religious exemption, will be placed on unpaid leave for one month. If they still are not in compliance with the requirement by Jan. 1, Mayo will terminate them. Mayo began vaccinating employees in December 2020.

When asked what he intended to do before the deadline, Jason shrugged.

“I’ll just have to look for work elsewhere. There is life outside of Mayo. It is getting too big for its britches,” he said. “I’ve been loyal to Mayo Clinic for 15 years and they come and blindside us like this.”

The vaccine requirement is being imposed in order to make hospital facilities safer for patients, visitors and other staff members, a Mayo Clinic spokeswoman said at the time the requirement was introduced.

Watching Monday's protest was Chris Nelson, a Mayo nurse who had just finished his shift. Asked what he thought of the protest, Nelson said, “I’m completely against them, but I support their freedom of speech.”

Nelson worked on a Mayo Clinic floor dedicated to treating COVD-19 patients. He said that most of his co-workers do not feel respected by protesters like these.

"Looking at this, I feel these people don’t value our work. A lot of my co-workers say the same thing,” he said. “There are a lot of emotions. The science is pretty clear.”

Nelson painted the issue of requiring employees to be vaccinated simply.

“They have the freedom to not comply,” he said. “And they have the freedom to work somewhere else.”