Texas Hospital Workers Sue Over Vaccine Mandates

Brenda Goodman

June 01, 2021

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A group of 117 people who work at the Houston Methodist Health System has filed a lawsuit against the medical center, objecting to its policy of requiring employees and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk losing their jobs.

Jennifer Bridges, RN

Plaintiffs include Jennifer Bridges, RN, a medical-surgical nurse at the hospital who has become the public face and the voice of healthcare workers who object to mandatory vaccination, as well as Bob Nevens, the hospital's director of corporate risk.

Nevens said the hospital was requiring him to be vaccinated even though he doesn't treat patients and has been working from home for most of the past year.

"My civil rights and liberties have been trampled on," he said in comments posted on an online petition. "My right to protect myself from unknown side effects of these vaccines has been placed below the optics of 'leading medicine,' " he said.

Nevens says in his comments that he was fired on April 15, although the lawsuit says he is currently employed by the hospital's corporate office.

The Texas attorney who filed the lawsuit, Jared Woodfill, is known to champion conservative causes. In March 2020, he challenged Harris County's stay-at-home order, charging that it violated religious liberty. He was chairman of the Harris County Republican Party for more than a decade. His website says he is a frequent guest on the local Fox News affiliate.

The lawsuit hinges on a section of the federal law that authorizes emergency use of medical products — US Code 360bbb-3.

That law says that individuals to whom the product is administered should be informed "of the option to accept or refuse administration of the product, of the consequence, if any, of refusing administration of the product, and of the alternatives to the product that are available and of their benefits and risks."

Legal experts are split as to what the provision means for vaccination mandates. Courts have not yet weighed in with their interpretations of the law.

The petition also repeats a popular antivaccination argument that likens requiring a vaccine approved for emergency use to the kind of medical experimentation performed by Nazi doctors on Jewish prisoners in concentration camps. It says forcing people to choose between an experimental vaccine and a job is a violation of the Nuremberg Code, which says that people must voluntarily and knowingly consent to participating in research.

The vaccines have already been tested in clinical trials. People who are getting them now are not part of those studies, though vaccine manufacturers, regulators, and safety experts are still watching closely for any sign of problems tied to the new shots.

It is true, however, that the emergency use authorization granted by the US Food and Drug Administraiton (FDA) speeded up the process of getting the vaccines onto market. Vaccine manufacturers are currently completing the process of submitting documentation required for a full biologics license application, the mechanism the FDA uses for full approval.

Houston Methodist sent an email to employees in April notifying them that they had until June 7 to start the vaccination process or apply for a medical or religious exemption. Those who decide not to will be terminated.

Marc Boom, MD, the healthcare system's president and CEO, has explained that the policy is in place to protect patients and that it was the first hospital in the United States to require it. Since then, other hospitals, including the University of Pennsylvania Health System, have required COVID vaccines.

Brenda Goodman is a staff writer for WebMD and Medscape. Follow her on Twitter @ReporterGoodman.

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