Nurses at Michigan Medicine who were previously not required to receive COVID-19 vaccinations will now need to be vaccinated following the new Supreme Court of the United States mandate to uphold vaccination for medical professionals.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed an emergency temporary standard (ETS) in November mandating COVID-19 vaccines or weekly testing for all companies with 100 or more employees. In January, the Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine-or-test requirement for large private companies but approved the vaccine mandate for health professionals under Medicare and Medicaid.
Due to the terms within their collective bargaining agreement written in 2018, the nurses in the University of Michigan Nurse Council (MNA) and other unions were not required to comply with the OSHA mandate last fall. This now changes after the Jan. 13 Supreme Court vote to uphold the vaccine mandate for all medical professionals, including the nurses of the MNA. Employees under Medicare and Medicaid will have until Mar. 15 to comply with the mandate.
Mary Masson, director of public relations for Michigan Medicine, wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily saying the hospital’s Medicare regulations require employees to receive their first vaccination or request an exemption by Jan. 27. Though many employees have already received their vaccination, Masson said Michigan Medicine will be scheduling meetings with the unions to prepare for the Jan. 27 deadline.
“We have about 7,800 union employees, including nurses in the MNA, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) members and trades union members,” Masson wrote. “Of those, only about 1,540 have an exemption or have not provided documentation of their vaccination to us.”
RaeDeane Hawthorne, an executive committee member of the MNA and a registered nurse with Michigan Medicine, told The Daily over email that she disagrees with the mandate. Though she is fully vaccinated, Hawthorne said she believes the vaccine requirement devalues nurses’ right to body autonomy.
“For the last two years we have worked tirelessly to care for our patients, short staffed, and have continued to give great care,” Hawthorne wrote. “Most of the RN’s (sic) have had the vaccination, but some have not, which should be their choice, as a human. We know what risk we take when we choose not to take the vaccine, or if we choose to. We have to come to work every day, caring for our patients and families of our patients, tired and exhausted but continuing to work. I am not against the vaccine, I am against removing our choice over our bodies.”
Loren Dobkin, a nurse practitioner with Michigan Medicine, said she has a background in public health and agrees with the mandate. While she said she understands some people feel the mandate takes away some individual choice, she said she believes it’s important for nurses to get the vaccine to protect their patients.
“I think if nurses were staying home and allowed to work at home, and not in community with other people and not caring for their very sickest people who are vulnerable to transmission, I think it would be a much more important argument. And that’s just not the case,” Dobkin said.
Dobkin said she also feels that her position as a nurse has helped her see the consequences of not being vaccinated more clearly.
“I think part of my position comes from — day in and day out for about six months — I’m talking to people who have been infected and crying with them about what it’s done to their lives,” Dobkin said. “On sort of a visceral level, I feel the vaccine is a very good thing and I feel like I understand the consequences of not being vaccinated.”
A registered nurse with Michigan Medicine, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of professional retribution, told The Daily over email that he disagrees with the vaccine mandate as well as Michigan Medicine’s policy to require weekly nasal swab tests for unvaccinated employees because he believes the process alienates nurses with exemptions. The Supreme Court mandate does not include a requirement to test unvaccinated employees. In this article, the nurse will be referred to as Joe.
“Michigan Medicine has set up a scenario that pits one group of nurses against their peers,” Joe wrote. “I believe it is a purposeful decision aimed at causing division between nurses prior to contract negotiations and is trying to divide us as a collective.”
Joe said there are many issues with the testing requirements set in place by Michigan Medicine. He said the practice of testing only those who are unvaccinated is unfair due to the surge of breakthrough infections reaching larger numbers of the vaccinated population.
“Since MM seems determined to continue the false narrative that ‘Non-vaccinated persons pose a greater risk to vaccinated persons becoming infected/reinfected’ they are creating a hostile environment for those who choose to exercise their God given constitutionally protected rights,” Joe wrote. “This is evidenced by comments I personally have overheard such as ”Every one of them, (speaking about those who have received exemptions), should be required to have “NOT VAXXED” tattooed on their foreheads!” to, ‘How can you call yourself a compassionate nurse if you’re not willing to make this sacrifice?’ to, ‘They should all be fired!’ and many more.”
Joe said he hopes the nurses union will support employees with exemptions, provide compensation for out-of-pocket testing and push for equal testing of both vaccinated and unvaccinated nurses. He would also like the Union to continue their negotiations with Michigan Medicine.
“Regardless of our individual stance on the pandemic and individual responses to it, we need to come together as a collective to advocate for a fair and adequate contract for all of us,” Joe wrote. “At 61 years old, I am close enough to retirement age that I am in a position to uphold my principles, but unfortunately there are many at Michigan Medicine that are not. It is for those fellow nurses that I will continue to advocate, speak up for and support to the very best of my abilities.”
More than 540 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States as of Feb. 2, and data from the Food and Drug Administration have shown that the vaccine is both safe and effective. The COVID-19 vaccine has also been found to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and experiencing serious illness and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nursing junior Madi Elliot wrote in a text message to The Daily that in order to provide high quality, evidence-based care, getting the vaccine is a duty that healthcare professionals have to the public and agrees with the mandate.
“There’s extensive evidence supporting the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing serious illness as well as reducing the risk of spreading the virus to others,” Elliot wrote. “Getting vaccinated not only protects you, but it also protects those around you.”
Daily Staff Reporter Isabella Kassa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.