LAFAYETTE, La. — As the fourth surge of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stress healthcare systems across the state, demonstrators lined the street outside of Our Lady of Lourdes, speaking out against vaccine mandates.
Those protesting outside the hospital were a mixture of healthcare professionals and people advocating for what they say is the right of healthcare workers. Several held signs with phrases like "Drop the mandate" and "No Choice, No Voice, No Care." They say they want the freedom to choose whether or not to get the vaccine.
Demonstrators tell us they are not discussing whether or not the vaccine works, but are simply advocating for the choice of getting vaccinated or not. One nurse we spoke with told us she believes that for every one person protesting there are 1,000 healthcare workers afraid to protest out of fear of losing their job.
"Everybody should have that same right whether you're a patient, you're a nurse, you're a doctor," said Katherine Self, RN. "We feel like we were essential last year, and now we're being told we're expendable. So we're out here to advocate for our freedom as Americans."
Dr. Henry Kaufman, chief medical officer at OLOL says that's not the case.
"None of our nurses or team members are expandable," he said. "We want to keep everybody here, but we want to do it in the safest possible way. We've lost more nurses and team members at this point from COVID infections than we have from any attrition from the vaccination. You're an important part of the team, we want you here, but we also want to maintain the highest degree of safety for our team members and our patients."
We asked Self what she told patients when they ask about the vaccine.
“I tell them to speak to their physician," said Self. "But if they ask me if I'm vaccinated, I tell them no.”
Not everyone at the protest works in healthcare, however.
KATC spoke with Leslie Price and Pam Sack, who say they know many nurses and others in health. Sack believes there is more support beyond those that showed up to protest.
"You hear all this honking," said Sack. "I’ve never seen this many people honk for a protest. For every single person standing out here to support these healthcare workers, there’s probably a thousand people behind us.”
Meanwhile, Price clarified, they are not arguing whether the vaccine works or not.
“It should be about their choice," said Price. "Not what somebody somewhere says they’re supposed to do. If you want it, get it, but if you don’t, you shouldn’t be forced to and then get fired because you’re not gonna do it. That’s not America.”
Inside Lourdes, hospital officials on Tuesday reported 104 COVID-19 patients; of those, 94 were unvaccinated.
Dr. Kaufman said it's heartbreaking to have a nurse sitting at a COVID-19 patient's bedside look out the window and see people protesting against what they're trying to do.
OLOL announced earlier this month that employees must be vaccinated by November or face termination. As of August 15, 65% of Lourdes employees in Acadiana were vaccinated.
Kaufman added that Lourdes will not waiver, and its COVID-19 vaccine requirement still stands.
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