Hartford HealthCare employees rally against COVID-19 vaccine mandate

·2 min read

A crowd of about 50 people rallied outside Hartford Hospital on Saturday to protest the health system’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all employees.

The group, composed largely of Hartford HealthCare employees, held signs with messages including, “Freedom, not force” and “God’s body, my choice.” Anita Mulshine, a registered nurse at the Hospital of Central Connecticut, chanted: “Just say no to vaccine mandates” through a megaphone.

“I want a freedom to make a choice,” Mulshine said. “People can take the vaccine, but I don’t want to be forced to take the vaccine.”

“We shouldn’t be forced to take this vaccine. We shouldn’t be forced to do weekly testing. We shouldn’t be forced to wear a mask because we haven’t taken the vaccine,” said Liza Blanchette, a nurse at Nachaug Hospital. “All of this is coercion.”

Hartford HealthCare announced in July that all employees without special exemptions must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk termination in accordance with a recommendation from the Connecticut Hospital Association. Officials said at the time that at least 75% of employees had already been vaccinated.

In a statement ahead of Saturday’s rally, Hartford HealthCare chief clinical officer Dr. Ajay Kumar reiterated the health system’s decision to require vaccination.

“While we support the right to protest, we know vaccines are safe and effective,” Kumar said. “This universal vaccination policy is important and designed to keep our colleagues and communities safe.”

As COVID-19 transmission has increased in recent weeks, a growing number of public officials and private businesses nationwide have imposed vaccine mandates for employees. Health officials say the mandates are necessary to protect employees and control COVID-19 spread.

Shawn Beaulieu doesn’t work for Hartford HealthCare but turned out for Saturday’s rally to voice opposition to vaccine mandates. As an employee of the state Department of Transportation, he will be required under an executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont to get vaccinated by Sept. 27 or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

“This is America, and we have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness before everything else,” Beaulieu said. “So if you believe the vaccine is going to save your life, feel free to get it, and if you don’t believe that’s the case, you should be free not to.”

Cathy D., a Hartford HealthCare staff nurse who declined to give her full last name, said she will not get vaccinated against COVID-19 even if it means sacrificing her career.

“I’ve been a nurse 27 years. I love my job. I love taking care of people,” she said. “But if it it came to the point where I lost my job and I couldn’t get a job as a nurse somewhere else, I would do something else. And that would break my heart, but I will not be coerced into taking something I don’t want to take.”

Alex Putterman can be reached at aputterman@courant.com.

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