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Protesters dispute vaccine science, requirements at Duke as COVID-19 cases keep rising

Posted July 30, 2021 4:48 a.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2021 5:44 p.m. EDT

— Protesters are traveling across the state, from hospital to hospital, to rally against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers.

Close to 100 people were outside of Duke University Hospital today in Durham, as new COVID-19 cases reach their highest totals in months.

While many healthcare workers over the past several months have pleaded for people to get the vaccine, today at Duke University Hospital people refusing to do just that.

They're pushing back against the now mandatory requirement for employment.

Most who showed up to protest were concerned community members, friends and family of healthcare workers, rather than the health care workers themselves.

Friday's protest was a heated day of chants and signs about vaccines carried throughout the crowd of people outside of the hospital.

WRAL News spoke with the protesters.

One said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared theories, rather than facts, about the virus.

Another woman, who said her husband is a registered nurse at the hospital, said her husband is "not seeing good things come of the vaccine thus far."

"It’s bodily autonomy to decide for yourself what goes in and out your body," she said, "and what happens to it seems to only go so far when it’s a political agenda."

When asked about the extensive vaccine testing and effectiveness data, the woman disputed the extent of testing and the level of the vaccines' effectiveness.

Despite the science, some in the medical field don’t trust the vaccine. Andrew Mitchell’s concerns come from experience.

Andrew Mitchell, a surgical technician at the hospital, had adhesive capsulitis -- also known as frozen shoulder -- after receiving the vaccine. The condition is associated with improper vaccine administration.

He acknowledged those types of reactions are "extremely rare." But he adds, everyone should be able to decide for themselves.

But another hospital worked who encountered the protestors called the demonstration dangerous.

“I work here! And you are putting me in danger!” he shouted.

“I think this is absurd," the man told WRAL. "I think these people are absolutely out of their minds to do this especially at the entrance of a hospital.”

Katie Galbraith, interim head for community health and president of Duke Regional Hospital said the surge of the delta variant of the virus made it the hospital's responsibility to take action.

"This is really about the safety for our team members, the safety for our patients," Galbraith said.

As for those opposed to the vaccine requirement, Galbraith said she understands their concerns.

"And I would want to share and bring in our clinicians to share some of the information that we have about the safety in the efficacy of this vaccine," she said.

The deadline to get vaccinated is Sept. 21 at 10 a.m. Duke official said they do not want employees to resign, but if they don’t comply they will face termination.

Mitchell said a lot of hospital workers opposed to getting the vaccine are afraid to demonstrate, for fear of repercussions.

"I think they should have that decision open to them, as well," Mitchell said, "without getting put in a position where you’re struggling to support your family or you’re given a deadline to get vaccinated when you might feel strongly against it."

Duke Health is among a handful of major healthcare systems with a mandatory vaccine policy as the Delta variant continues to spread.

A hospital spokesperson told WRAL on Friday that about 77% of employees had received the vaccine so far, a slight uptick from 75% earlier in the week.

Similar protests are happening outside hospitals all over the state over the next several weeks. Protesters also gathered Thursday outside Cone Health in Greensboro.

Starting on Friday, masks will be required on Duke University's campus and any other buildings the university owns or leases. North Carolina reported 3,268 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, which is the highest one-day total in five months.

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