A growing number of Americans are facing the imminent loss of their livelihoods, economic uncertainty, and in some cases financial ruin, not because of mass layoffs prompted by economic recession or the collapse of their industries, but simply because they refuse to get a COVID-19 shot.
These workers occupy every corner of the American economy, from health care to entertainment, law enforcement to IT, food service to academia. What unites them is the firm belief that they should not be forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine, whether by the government or their employer, under the threat of losing their job.
As vaccine mandate deadlines loom, this threat is becoming a reality.
In Massachusetts, dozens of state troopers have reportedly submitted their resignations ahead of Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine mandate, which goes into effect on October 17. An attorney with the state police union told CBS News that about 20 percent of state police employees are unvaccinated. All of them face dismissal if they do not get the shot.
In Virginia, the Washington Post reports that hundreds of hospital employees have been fired in recent weeks as vaccine mandates from major health-care systems have taken effect. In North Carolina, a single hospital system fired 175 people for failing to get the COVID-19 shot, according to ABC News. Across the country, more than 1,600 health workers have been fired to date for refusing to get the shot, according to one tally by journalist Sharyl Attkisson.
United Airlines, the first U.S. carrier to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine back in August, announced last week it had begun the process of firing about 600 employees. Other large firms in myriad industries are following suit after President Joe Biden announced last month he would use the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to mandate that all businesses with 100 or more workers require all employees to be vaccinated or face weekly testing — a dubious exercise of federal regulatory power that immediately drew threats of lawsuits.
Whether these and other lawsuits will be successful is anyone’s guess. But in the meantime, tens of thousands of Americans, possibly many more, are going to lose their jobs for taking a stand against unjust and unwarranted vaccine mandates that violate their basic freedom not to be coerced into medical treatments they don’t want.
‘It’s The Principle of the Matter’
I spoke to some of these people about why they’re willing to give up their jobs and livelihoods over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Not all of them have been fired yet, and some are hoping their employers will back down, or that they’ll be able to find work with firms that are not requiring the shot. They all requested anonymity, which I readily granted.
One woman I spoke with is the mother of six children and a foster parent to two others, all under the age of 11, some of whom have special needs. She is also a physician’s assistant at a large hospital, where she has worked for the past 14 years.
I’ll call her Jane. Jane is in her early 40s and does not want to lose her job. She’s not sure how her family will get by without her income. But on October 15, she’ll be fired. Not because of her job performance or professional conduct, but simply because she refuses to get a COVID-19 shot. Back in July, Jane’s hospital announced that all employees, including all medical staff, who are not fully vaccinated by October 15 will be terminated.
The hospital is refusing even to consider religious exemptions, and is reviewing requests for medical exemptions on a case-by-case basis. That’s tough luck for Jane, because she’s refusing to get the shot on religious grounds. Like many religiously conservative Americans, she objects to taking a vaccine developed with fetal cell lines derived from aborted children. Even if it means losing her job and ensuing hardships for her family, she will not do it.
“God has called me to care for vulnerable children, that is my calling in life, so more than anything, I can’t be involved with something that harms the most vulnerable,” she said.
It is easy to find fault with the moral reasoning behind her decision. Plenty of pro-life Americans have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine in good conscience, and even the Vatican has said it is morally licit for Catholics to take these vaccines, that taking them does not constitute “passive material cooperation” with the evil of abortion.
But whether or not you agree with Jane’s reasoning is beside the point. The moral and religious calculation is entirely hers to make, and it is categorically unethical to force her to take a vaccine — or undergo any other medical treatment — that violates her conscience.
That’s why there’s no important difference between Jane’s objections to the vaccine and the objections of any of the other people I spoke to. Some of them don’t believe the long-term effects of the vaccines are known or adequately understood, and refuse to get the shot on those grounds. Some think the known side effects of the vaccines are not worth the risk compared to the risks associated with contracting COVID-19.
Others simply refuse on the principle that the government should not have the power to force anyone to take any kind of medical treatment; their specific reasons for refusing are irrelevant. That is, they don’t feel the need to justify their decision to the government or their employer, any more than they would have to justify — or even discuss — any other medical decision.
That’s what a man we’ll call Bob told me. Bob is an automation control tech for an oil company on the north slope of Alaska, a job he’s had for almost 15 years. His company recently announced it will comply with the OSHA mandate promulgated by President Biden.
Bob has informed his manager that he won’t be getting the vaccine and will not submit to weekly testing, even if it means he gets fired. He has a fairly specialized job and skill set, as do other key coworkers on his team, whom he says will also leave if there is a mandate.
Bob said he has religious objections to the vaccine and that he thinks it hasn’t been adequately tested, but his primary objection is that, “It’s not the company’s or the government’s place to dictate these decisions. It’s a personal decision.”
He also doesn’t think he’s an outlier. “I don’t think it’s a minor group of people who are taking this stance,” he said. “I think we’ll see a large portion of the workforce leave if this goes through. And we’ll see small businesses crop up to fill in the gaps.”
Another man I talked to, we’ll call him Mike, is an engineer at a company that contracts with the U.S. Department of Energy to dispose of nuclear waste — another fairly specialized skill set. Last month his company announced that mandatory vaccination will be a “condition of employment,” with implementation of the policy to be determined.
Mike is a manager, and when we spoke he had three employees out with COVID-19, all of them vaccinated. He said he has never had an unvaccinated person out with COVID-19, and that no one in his building, out of hundreds of people, has gotten COVID-19 from someone else in the building. He concedes that this is anecdotal evidence, but he also doesn’t think there’s significant scientific evidence for what the government is saying about the vaccine.
“So you don’t know what to believe is true or false,” he said. “I can’t believe what’s being told to me from outside sources, but I can believe what I see in front of me.”
Like Bob, Mike says it’s not so much the particulars of the vaccine — its safety or efficacy, its health risks or side effects — that made up his mind not to get the shot. “It’s the principle of the matter, is the biggest thing. It’s, okay, you’re going to require me now to get this? Obviously, the booster shots are right behind it. It’s a never-ending cycle. What else are you going to tell me to do?”
For Joe, a 51-year-old live sound engineer, the vaccine mandates imposed by major concert promoters like Live Nation are a threat not just to his livelihood but to his health. He had bad reactions to vaccines when he was in the U.S. Army, and literally carries around copies of a letter from his doctor saying he should not get the COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons.
Still, he says, “Nobody seems to care.” Recently, he was dismissed from working a John Legend tour because the promoter, Live Nation, is requiring all employees of venues and tours it owns to be vaccinated as of October 4, no exceptions or exemptions allowed. Joe calls it “medical apartheid,” and says it’s getting harder to find shows and tours that don’t require a COVID-19 shot.
Every job he is able to get now comes with the added stress and anxiety of what the vaccine policy is going to be when he arrives at the venue: “You show up wondering whether or not you’re going to be medically discriminated against for the day, or what the nonsense is going to be, or if they’re even just going to send you home flat out, you just don’t know.”
Joe has been all over the globe, running sound on major concerts and world tours for 25 years. Now, he’s facing the prospect that he won’t be allowed to work in his profession anywhere. “I’m sitting here wondering, watching the hourglass, how much longer is it going to run out? How much longer before I’m completely denied and I just have to figure out what I’m going to do next?”