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'It's a mistake to mandate the vaccine': Protestors demand medical freedom of choice as Atrium Health requires COVID-19 vaccination for employees

This protest comes while Georgia's healthcare system is overwhelmed by the fourth wave-- mainly among the unvaccinated.

MACON, Ga. — Dozens of people marched from Poplar Street in downtown Macon to Atrium Health Navicent--protesting the hospital's new vaccination policy. 

Nearly a month ago, the North Carolina-based health system announced that more than 70,000 employees across its 40 hospitals, including Navicent in Macon, will need to be vaccinated by Halloween. 

"I just think it's unfair," said Melissa Wilkins, a travel nurse at Saturday's protest. 

Roughly 70 people attended the protest--all demanding medical freedom of choice when it comes to employers and the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"That's the basis of our healthcare system," said Laura Webb.

"We don't force treatments onto our patients, why would we be forcing treatment onto ourselves," a protestor said. 

Travel nurse Melissa Wilkins says that the vaccine mandate has put an extra burden on healthcare workers.

"We're already are short staffed, we were short staffed before COVID. There was a strain on healthcare before that this made it even worse. I think it's a mistake to put extra strain on an already extra thin healthcare system," Wilkins said. 

Protestors say the goal of Saturday's demonstration, "for it to continue to be an option in oppose to it being a mandate," one woman said. 

This protest comes while Georgia's healthcare system is overwhelmed by the fourth wave. 

Hospitals across the state are seeing a surging number of COVID-19 cases, mostly among the unvaccinated.  

Atrium Health reported Wednesday that 109 of the 117 hospitalized are not vaccinated. 27 of 28 in their ICU are unvaccinated, and 17 of the 18 patients on ventilators are also unvaccinated. 

Credit: Atrium Health Navicent

With the surge of unvaccinated cases, comes overcrowded ERs.

All three hospitals in Macon listed severe overcrowding Friday night, according to the Georgia Coordinating Center. Off and on this week, all three have had to divert patients transferred by ambulance to other hospitals. 

Atrium Health responded to the protest. Their statement reads:

"Atrium Health Navicent has a long history of protecting the health of our patients, our teammates and the communities we serve. With the new and more contagious variants now causing hospitalizations to rise across our region, we are requiring teammates to be vaccinated against the virus. Science has demonstrated that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and continue to save countless lives. Evidence has also shown that individuals who are vaccinated are less likely to become severely ill.

We greatly value all of our teammates who have shown such dedication to our patients, their loved ones and to each other during the pandemic, and we respect the rights of those who have chosen to have their voices heard in a peaceful and civil manner. Open communication is something we embrace at Atrium Health Navicent. We encourage our teammates to share any concerns they may have directly with their leaders if they have questions about our vaccination requirement.”


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