S T. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – The debate over vaccines has led to a protest outside Mercy Hospital South.
Protesters walked down the public sidewalk on Kennerly Road to protest the hospital's policy requiring employees to get vaccinated against the flu.
However, it is not clear if any employee of the hospital was involved in the protest. The protesters said they are supporters of employees who apply for an exemption from the flu vaccine for valid religious or medical reasons.
Nelia Abuchon, the woman who organized the protest, said she is friends with a nurse at Mercy South Hospital who was fired this week after her exemption was denied on religious grounds.
The organizer of the protest said that her friend had been a nurse at this hospital for five years and that she had been granted a religious exemption in the past, when this facility was known as the San Antonio Medical Center. But since Mercy bought the hospital about a year ago, it seems harder to get that exemption.
"Mercy has a policy that says they accept religious and medical exemptions and yet, in practice, they do not seem to accept them, they deny them," Abuchon said. "Here, at Mercy South, this nurse does not know any other doctor or nurse who was really granted her religious or medical exemption and, frankly, here we are focused on the religious exemption because this nurse chose instead of being forced to receive the vaccine, she was fired yesterday. "
Mercy Hospital South issued the following statement on Tuesday afternoon in response to the protests:
"The goal of our influenza vaccination policy is simple: protection against the flu virus saves lives, especially those of our most vulnerable patients.
"Those partners whose exemption requests were not accepted will be notified this week and, in accordance with our policy, will not be allowed to remain employed without receiving a vaccine."
Mercy's statement goes on to say that of its more than 44,000 employees throughout the system, it received approximately 170 exemption requests this year. The majority of those requests were approved.
The protesters said that in addition to religious and medical exemptions, this is also a matter of choice. One protester even held a sign that said: "My body, my choice." There were some representatives who participated in the demonstration of the Missouri Coalition for the Choice of Vaccines and the Missouri Coalition for Medical Freedom.