Holding posters and waving to receptive drivers as they honked, upward of 100 people took part in a protest against Banner’s vaccine mandate Monday on the Beeline Highway.
Banner Health, Arizona’s largest health provider, is requiring all employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
Banner notified staff of the policy change July 20, explaining in a press release that “to protect patients, team members and the community, today Banner Health notified its employees that being vaccinated for COVID-19 will be a condition of employment. With limited exceptions, all team members have until November 1 to be fully vaccinated.”
Hoyt Skabelund, Banner Payson Medical Center CEO, said the vaccine is “the single most effective way” to provide a safe environment for staff and patients during the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and extremely effective, and we encourage all our team members and the community to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” he wrote. “Banner’s vaccination requirement for its employees is just one more way we are demonstrating our commitment to safety.”
Protesters disagreed, saying there is still too much unknown about the vaccines to require staff to take them.
Resident Wendy Larchick said she protested the mandate because anytime an employer or the government take away an individual’s rights, it can become a domino effect.
“Fear of COVID is so pervasive right now that it seems like people will do anything the latest ‘expert’ recommends, even if it is in direct conflict with the last ‘expert’s guidance,’ she wrote. “For me, the slippery slope of allowing a third party to mandate that a person has to be injected with what is an experimental drug at this point (there is no FDA approval or sufficient studies done) or lose their rights is much scarier. Plus, it’s always been known that vaccinations protect the person vaccinated. If you are unvaccinated, you are only risking your own health — why all of a sudden is it different now?”
Chuck Davis, who photographed the event, said it was a peaceful protest.
“Today people of these United States exercised their First Amendment right to free speech, to peaceable assembly and petition the Government for redress of grievances,” he wrote.
Shirley Dye said several concerned citizens and employees organized the event.
“When (many from churches, employees, and regular citizens) marched down and lined the Beeline, we had a great response with honks and waves; only one middle finger was seen,” she said.
Hoyt said they would consider vaccine exemptions in accordance with federal and state laws.
“As I hear it, there are many who will quit rather than take the vaccine and leave Payson hospital in dire straits as it is already very difficult to find employees, especially doctors and nurses, due to the lack of affordable housing already,” Dye said.
Banner Health, in a press release, said it was implementing this requirement for several reasons, including the rise of the Delta variant, the pending lift of the Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, the need to protect its patients and workforce, and to prepare for the flu season. In addition, national data shows that 97% of hospitalizations and 99% of COVID-19 deaths are in the unvaccinated.
Banner Health employs roughly 52,000.