An activist group that included healthcare workers on Thursday requisitioned a meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor, Health and Human Services to demand legislative action against COVID-19 vaccination requirements in state medical institutions.
After the meeting, nearly 80 people gathered outside to demonstrate against the vaccination warrants.
Although vaccinations or COVID-19 mandates were not on the labor committee’s agenda, activists from as far away as Gillette and Worland took several hours from the meeting to voice concerns about vaccination requirements in the workplace, particularly at Banner Health facilities in Worland and Casper. The Phoenix-based healthcare provider made employee vaccination mandatory at all of its facilities nationwide on July 20, citing the increasing prevalence of the most contagious delta variant and disproportionate hospitalization rates among patients Unvaccinated COVID-19.
Banner did not immediately return a request for comment.
The committee had proposed legislation to limit employers’ ability to mandate vaccinations at its June meeting.
The group’s presence, which included employees from Wyoming Medical Center, naturopaths and former state lawmaker and pastor Scott Clem, seemed to surprise committee members. However, members of the activist group, Wyoming Medical Freedom Advocates, told WyoFile they were in attendance at the request of committee member, Representative Pepper Ottman (R-Riverton), who praised them for their courage in speak during the meeting.
“We want people to know that they are not alone,” said Chandra Wagner, an organizer for the group, who said she quit her job as a nurse at Wyoming Medical Center because of her vaccine needs. .
The meeting was to begin with a discussion of Wyoming’s aging population and a review of several laws to meet its needs. Before it started, however, the committee allowed four medical professionals – including an intensive care nurse, an anesthesiologist and a dentist – to come forward. They had come to express their concerns about the vaccination warrants issued in recent weeks by health care providers and President Joe Biden.
After their presentation, other activists – mostly current and former medical staff – took to the podium to echo these concerns. The hour-long discussion delayed most of the committee’s agenda for the day.
Some said the vaccination mandate created an environment of “tension and hostility” between those who had been vaccinated and those who had not. Others have expressed fears about the possibility of being sacked for refusing to be vaccinated or that some professionals may leave the field, one of them mocking hospital administrators of “fascists”. “. Others have repeated questionable claims that the COVID-19 vaccine has claimed thousands of lives and lamented the lack of access to veterinary dewormer Ivermectin, which has not been approved by the FDA to treat the virus.
One person to testify, Gillette’s physician assistant Alison Brady claimed there were an equal number of COVID-19 vaccinated patients on ventilators and unvaccinated patients at the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, a fact refuted by hospital statistics. (Only 15% of CRMC ventilator patients were vaccinated on Friday, according to hospital CEO Timothy Thornell.)
At a rally after the meeting, Senator Troy McKeown (R-Gillette) told attendees to “stay strong” and not get the shot. Other lawmakers urged participants to challenge hospitals in desperate need of staff amid the state’s current shortage of medical personnel.
â€œGet them fired,â€ Rep. Bob Wharff (R-Evanston) told attendees.
While staff at the Wyoming Hospital Association said staffing issues persisted long before the pandemic, WHA officials acknowledged that COVID-19 vaccine mandates played a role in recent staff shortages across the country. ‘State.
The group’s participation was part of a growing movement against vaccination warrants that includes Governor Mark Gordon and members of the Wyoming legislature.
President Joe Biden announced a mandate on September 9 that would require vaccines or regular testing for companies with 100 or more employees. Following the announcement, Gordon joined with other Republican governors in an attempt to defeat the rule and announced that there may be a special legislative session as early as October to address the issue.
Groups like WMFA distributed flyers around Casper encouraging opponents to rally against vaccines, and protests were held from Worland to Cheyenne.
At the protest following Thursday’s meeting, a speaker praised the state’s low overall immunization rate.
â€œWe are the majority! She called for cheers.
Some 37% of residents were vaccinated as of Sept. 13, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
The pressure on lawmakers to act is strong. In his own testimony to the committee, Clem told lawmakers that if the government doesn’t do its job, “the people will do it themselves.” Others encouraged active resistance to vaccine mandates and to continue to appear at committee hearings to make their voices heard.
“Politicians will only respect you if they fear you,” Congressman and Wyoming Senator Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) said at Thursday’s rally.
Wyoming Hospital Association director Eric Boley told WyoFile that although his organization supports vaccination, rates between providers vary widely and often reflect their county policy.
While some Teton County nursing homes have staff immunization rates of 70-90%, facilities in other jurisdictions are closer to 30%, he said. Although hospitals do not track staff immunization rates, data from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services shows that just over half of Wyoming nursing home staff have been immunized, among the highest rates. bottom of the country.
Due to the political nature of the discussion, supporters of vaccination mandates were rarely represented at committee meetings, said committee co-chair Senator Fred Baldwin (R-Kemmerer). The conversation has become increasingly difficult, he added, since the Biden administration announced his tenure.
â€œWe haven’t heard a word pro-vaccine,â€ he told WyoFile after the meeting. â€œNobody wants to put it out there, I don’t think so. They will simply be beaten to death. I hear people who are pro-vaccine who think you should get it, but anti-mandate. ”
Vaccine mandates were not on the committee’s published agenda and no public notice was given of the presentation, giving vaccine advocates no opportunity to attend or respond in real time. . Wyoming’s legislative rules allow committee chairs to hold meetings as they see fit, Office of Legislative Services Director Matt Obrecht said.
â€œChairs have a wide discretion in the efficient conduct of their meetings and agendas are always seen as changing,â€ he said.
Recent polls have shown that more than half of Americans approve of work vaccination mandates.
On Friday, an eight-member majority voted for a bill to ban forced vaccinations against COVID-19 before its next meeting in November. Bouchard presented the motion. A previous version of the bill failed the Senate Judiciary Committee last winter by a 4-1 vote.