AKRON, Ohio — Dozens of people took to the streets outside of Akron Children’s Hospital Wednesday afternoon to protest against the hospital’s vaccine mandate.
By Nov. 1 all staff members at Akron Children’s have to get vaccinated against COVID19 or undergo regular testing.
The protestors, made up of healthcare workers and community members, said they came out to advocate for medical freedom.
“We live in the United States of America and as a healthcare professional, I advocate for people’s right to choose what they want to do with their bodies,” said Blake Veglia.
Veglia has been a nurse at Akron Children’s Hospital since 2017.
“I believe in the community. I believe in the kids and I believe in the staff here, but when the organization turns their back on you, where else do you go?” he asked.
He said he is not against vaccines, but wants more time to decide whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I want someone to show me the long-term effects of the vaccine, but the thing is, no one in America to this day can show me that because there’s not enough time, there’s not enough data,” he said. “If they can show me those years of data, not mRNA technology, I’m talking about COVID-19 vaccine technology, then I’ll take it, but there isn’t enough time and it is my duty as a nurse to question science.”
He said, despite having natural immunity, he has felt pressured by his supervisors to get vaccinated.
“Why are we ignoring natural immunity and when did that stop becoming a thing, because that has been a part of medicine for years, decades, centuries, so why aren’t we talking about it?” he asked.
He’s not alone in his vaccine hesitation. Jennifer Hill works at Aultman Hospital in Canton in the physical therapy department.
While there is not a mandate there yet, she is worried it is coming soon.
“Last year we put our lives on the line. Every day we went in and everyone thought we were heroes, now we are being thrown away and fired,” she said. “I wear an N95, no germs are going to get out of that, nothing is supposed to come in so nothing should get out, and I’m tested twice a week. That should be good enough for me to hold my job,” said Hill.
She said if she is forced to, she will leave her job of 25 years.
“It’s very scary because this country is going to have a big healthcare crisis when many, many, many people are forced out,” said Hill.
“You’re going to have a lot of very intelligent, very competent people that aren’t going to be doing what we should be doing because some politician made a mandate,” she said.
Veglia is leaving Akron Children’s Hospital and said he is worried if the mandate isn’t dropped, it will affect everyone inside the hospital.
“You know who is going to suffer the most? Our community,” he said. “Over 70% are vaccinated, but majority of people in there, [Akron Children’s], regardless of their vaccination status, believe that medical choice and medical freedom still should be a thing in the United States of America.”
According to an Akron Children Hospital spokesperson, about 72% of its employees are fully vaccinated.
Grace Wakulchik, the president and CEO of Akron Children’s hospital provided News 5 with this statement:
“We recognize the right of our employees and others to peacefully express their views and we are listening to their concerns. It’s been a tough year and half for all of us, and we appreciate the long hours and difficult days and nights of those in health care working through a pandemic that seems to have no end. Akron Children’s, like every other health care organization, is experiencing high volumes and limited staffing. Our leadership team has developed a comprehensive plan to address this.
Requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or weekly COVID testing was a difficult decision for us, but one made based on science and our concern for the health and safety our young patients, and our employees themselves.
Yesterday we had our highest number of children hospitalized with COVID-19, and our pediatric intensive care unit is over capacity with a combination of community respiratory infections and an increase in COVID-19. We have a commitment to care for all children, including those with chronic illnesses and those not eligible to be vaccinated. We must do everything to protect them. Vaccination, while not a 100 percent safeguard against the virus, is still the most powerful tool we have to get through the pandemic.”