October 17 — Monday, nurse Michele Brown will not be working in the emergency department at Asante Ashland Community Hospital.
Instead, she will be on administrative leave for refusing to follow a state mandate that all Oregon K-12 health care and school workers and volunteers be fully immunized against COVID-19 by October 18 or request a medical or religious exception.
Brown said Asante granted her a religious exception, but the accommodation he gave her was to put her on administrative leave.
“I love what I do. I don’t love it enough to sacrifice my medical freedom,” said Brown, who has decades of experience as a nurse.
Brown said she prayed a lot about it.
“God put me on this path, and he has a plan. I don’t understand it, but I’m going to do it,” she said.
Brown said she was not an anti-vaxxer. She has been vaccinated against other infectious diseases, including the flu. She also doesn’t deny that COVID-19 is real. She has seen the suffering of hospital patients with COVID-19.
Brown said people with underlying health conditions should get vaccinated against COVID-19. But she said her healthy lifestyle and years of exposure to germs and viruses in the hospital gave her a strong immune system.
Although people with medical conditions are more likely to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19, the virus has also struck strong and healthy people across Oregon and the country.
To her knowledge, Brown has said she has not had COVID-19 herself.
She believes she is at such a low risk of serious consequences from COVID-19 that for her it is not worth facing the potential risks of vaccination.
Brown said she was unwilling to be injected with COVID-19 vaccines because they use new technology for vaccinations.
Many vaccines, including flu and measles vaccines, contain a weak or tiny part of a virus. The body responds by making antibodies that can fight off a future virus invasion, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines using new messenger RNA technology that does not contain COVID-19 virus. Instead, they teach cells in the body to make tiny spikes of protein like the sharp protuberances on the surface of COVID-19 viruses. The immune system recognizes the spikes as foreign and makes antibodies to overcome them. If real COVID-19 viruses later invade the body, the immune system has a good start to attacking these viruses, according to the CDC.
The Johnson & Johnson version uses a different approach to train the body to produce the protein spikes. It injects a weakened adenovirus vector that carries the genetic code for the spike protein, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Brown said she believes it is too early to say whether COVID-19 vaccines will cause long-term harm.
“In three years, I hope that I am totally wrong and that there will be no side effects. I am not ready to take these risks,” she said.
She fears that a COVID-19 vaccination could change the way her body reacts to viruses in the future in unpredictable ways.
Brown cited the example of a botched dengue vaccination program in the Philippines as an example of the risk of new vaccines.
According to news reports, as of 2016, more than 800,000 children in the Philippines have been vaccinated against dengue, which has increased the chances of plasma leaking into their blood vessels if they catch dengue. The leak was rare, but it could happen in children who had never had dengue fever before being vaccinated.
The vaccination campaign continued despite warnings from a dengue fever expert on the risks. Estimates of the number of children who have died vary wildly from 10 to 600, according to newspaper reports.
The dengue vaccine can now only be used in children who have had dengue fever in the past.
The debacle has damaged confidence in all vaccinations in the Philippines so much that vaccination rates have plummeted. The country suffered a measles epidemic in 2019 that sickened 26,000 people and killed more than 355, according to press reports.
The Philippines also suffered a polio outbreak in 2019 after 19 years without polio. A global effort to boost polio vaccinations and control infections has once again eradicated polio from the country, the World Health Organization said.
Brown said she would like the governor of Oregon to rescind the state’s mandate for health care and education workers to be vaccinated.
However, even if the state mandate is lifted, a federal mandate covering workers in organizations with 100 or more employees comes into effect in November. Workers must get vaccinated or have a weekly COVID-19 test.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott last week banned COVID-19 vaccination warrants in the state. His order puts companies in a dilemma because Abbott lacks the power to stop President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate.
Regarding the financial blow Brown will take from her decision not to get the vaccine, she said she has enough vacation time to be paid for 10 weeks at 20 hours a week. This will allow him to keep his family medical insurance for 10 weeks. Her insurance covers her as well as her husband and two sons.
“I see injustice happening. Unless we take a stand, what’s next? That goes for me work and medical insurance. I’ll find out. I’ll turn over burgers if I have to.” , she said.
Brown said many people lacked financial buffers and were vaccinated against their will. She said she knew a single mother with three children who cried for days after being vaccinated in order to keep her job.
Brown said no one will know until Monday how many employees will be out of work because they haven’t been vaccinated. She predicted that already understaffed medical centers will face an even more severe labor shortage.
Some medical procedures may need to be canceled or postponed, she said.
“Nobody’s going to win in this. That’s the saddest part about it,” Brown said.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced the next term this summer, as the state was in the midst of an unprecedented wave of COVID-19 cases. Cases have skyrocketed the most in Jackson and Josephine counties, where overburdened hospitals have had to cancel major surgeries, including many cancer surgeries, to cope with an influx of COVID-19 patients.
The vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 – especially those in intensive care and on ventilators – have not been vaccinated, according to daily updates provided by Asante during the outbreak.
The surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is declining, but death rates remain high. Hospitals statewide are still under pressure, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority.
Brown said the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in the cancellation of surgeries and other procedures, but the loss of healthcare workers due to the vaccination mandate could result in a longer period of disruption.
She said she was worried that patients would not get the care they expect or need.
“But at some point I have to make a decision, and I made my decision,” she said.
As to whether she believes unvaccinated healthcare workers put vulnerable patients at risk, Brown said both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can spread the virus.
So far, research shows that vaccinated people are less likely to be infected with the virus, the CDC said.
However, if they are infected, research shows that they can still pass the virus on to others.
A study funded by the UK government this year found that people infected with the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 are less likely to pass the virus to their close contacts if they have been vaccinated. However, the protective effect was relatively weak compared to unvaccinated people, and the benefit waned after three months.
Another 2021 study from two California universities found no significant difference in virus levels between vaccinated and unvaccinated people who tested positive for the delta variant. Instead, individuals showed large variations in their virus levels regardless of their vaccination status or whether they were showing symptoms.
Numerous studies have shown that vaccination is very effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 in people who have been vaccinated.
Brown said she was angry with suggestions from some in the community that unvaccinated people who fall ill with COVID-19 should be barred from getting an intensive care unit bed.
Some said people should accept personal responsibility for not getting the vaccine by staying home and not going to the hospital if they become seriously ill. Others said hospitals should prioritize patients who need surgery for cancer and other serious illnesses and refuse unvaccinated COVID-19 patients if there is not enough hospital beds and staff to take care of everyone.
Brown said hospitals provide 24/7 care for people who smoke, abuse drugs and alcohol, don’t eat healthy foods, don’t exercise and make other harmful lifestyle decisions.
While she would not refuse to treat an unvaccinated COVID-19 patient, Brown said people need to understand that there is a low risk of death from the virus. She believes the death statistics are inaccurate and too high, as people with serious health conditions are counted as deaths from COVID-19 if they test positive for the virus.
“If you choose not to get the vaccine, you have to understand the risks and be okay with it,” she said.
Brown said the vaccination problem is causing divisions among healthcare workers who have stood side by side during the pandemic. She said vaccinated health workers resented those who choose not to be vaccinated.
“There is a lot of disdain and resentment and a lot of really horrible things have been said,” she said.
Brown said she believes hospitals and other medical facilities will lose a wide range of workers when the vaccination mandate goes into effect on Monday. Those not working might include people who clean and sterilize equipment and rooms, cafeteria workers, technicians, certified nursing assistants, nurses and more.
“No one will know until the 18th. I hear the rumors. It’s not good,” she said.
Contact Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.