Large crowd gathers to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates from Anchorage healthcare organizations
About 150 people gathered Thursday night at an intersection near the Alaska Native Medical Campus in Anchorage to protest COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, along with its partner organization, Southcentral Foundation, announced last month that employees would be required to be vaccinated against COVID by October 15.
Employees and other community members gathered at the corner of Elmore and Tudor Roads to protest the warrant. They were holding signs with messages like âMy body, my choiceâ, âCoercion is not an aboriginal valueâ and âNot anti-vax; Anti Mandate âas passing cars honked their horns.
Event organizer Becky Crawford, who works for the Southcentral Foundation as a graphic designer, said she was disappointed that the vaccine, which was cleared in late 2020, was being forced on employees. But she was delighted to see a strong turnout.
“I am really surprised,” she said, “It just shows that the community does not agree with these mandates.”
The vaccine has undergone rigorous testing and has been shown to be safe and effective.
The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are fully licensed under the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Clearance, but if the pandemic ends, they will need to be cleared for normal use, which could take several years.
Several other large healthcare organizations are demanding COVID-19 vaccines. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium announced a need in may and the Bering Straits Native Corporation demanded them in April. PeaceHealth, the Vancouver-based Catholic nonprofit that operates clinics in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, said it would need vaccines this week. Providence Health & Services Alaska also recently announced a vaccine requirement.
RELATED: Providence Alaska says its caregivers must get COVID-19 vaccine or follow additional rules
Crawford and others said they did not trust mainstream medical organizations or government endorsement of the vaccine.
“If they can scare people into getting the vax – you know what?” They make a lot of money, âsaid Diane Shrader, a protester.
Many attendees at the event expressed concern about the long-term effects of the vaccine.
âThey say he went through rigorous testing and stuff, but you can’t test for long term side effects over a period of time. It’s just impossible, âsaid Matt Lindberg, another protester. “So that doesn’t make sense to me.”
The mRNA vaccines used for Pfizer and Moderna injections were developed over decades, but COVID-19 vaccines began to be developed in early 2020.
Lindberg did not say if he would end up getting the vaccine, but several others – some of whom refused to share their names – said they would be willing to give up their jobs rather than get the shot.
Employees face an uphill battle in the courts, which have found vaccine mandates for healthcare workers must be legal. But Crawford said she hoped the protest would inspire workers to push back the demand.
âI want them to be encouraged not to be alone. That was my number one goal, “she said.” And then just to let decision-makers know it’s wrong. “
In a written statement, ANTHC President Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson supported the organization’s decision to require vaccines. The organization has about 3,000 employees, according to its website.
“While we respect the rights of those who chose to protest yesterday and thank them for doing so with respect, we are committed to providing a vaccinated workforce to protect our patients, staff and communities,” indicates the press release.
She said the decision to require the vaccine was not taken lightly, but with staff traveling around the state, there was a need to ensure the safety of staff and clients.
“We also understand that some may make a personal choice to remain unprotected and work elsewhere,” the statement said.
Southcentral Foundation President April Kyle echoed this statement.
âWe recognize the importance of this decision and have not taken it lightly. The vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective against infections, hospitalizations and death. We value and respect all of our employees and recognize that choosing to get vaccinated is a personal decision, âshe wrote.
Jeff Chen of Alaska Public Media contributed reporting.