Covid-19 News: Over 150 Texas Hospital Workers Are Fired or Resign Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 150 staff members at a Houston-area hospital were fired or resigned on Tuesday for not following a policy that requires employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
The hospital, Houston Methodist, had told employees that they had to be vaccinated by June 7 or face suspension for two weeks. Of the nearly 200 employees who had been suspended, 153 of them were terminated by the hospital on Tuesday or had resigned, according to Gale Smith, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
Ms. Smith said employees who had complied with the vaccine policy during the suspension period were allowed to return to work a day after they became compliant.
The hospital did not specify how many workers had complied and returned to work.
Vaccine hesitancy has been high among frontline health care workers: Surveys showed that nearly half remained unvaccinated as of mid-March, despite being among the first to become eligible for the shots in December. A March 2021 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that health care workers had concerns about the vaccines’ newness and their possible side effects, both of which are common reasons for waiting to be vaccinated.
Earlier this month, dozens of employees who had not been vaccinated by Houston Methodist’s deadline protested outside of the hospital against the mandatory vaccine policy.
The protest followed a now dismissed lawsuit filed last month by 117 Houston Methodist employees against their employer over the vaccine policy. The workers’ lawsuit accused the hospital of “forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.”
Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who led the Houston Methodist protest, had cited the lack of full F.D.A. approval for the shots as a reason she wouldn’t get vaccinated.
U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, in the Southern District of Texas, rejected a claim by Ms. Bridges, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, that the vaccines available for use in the United States were experimental and dangerous.
“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” Judge Hughes wrote. “Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”
Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said the vaccine requirement was no different than other mandates for health care workers, like getting an annual flu shot, keeping up with immunizations and wearing hairnets.
He noted that some health care workers have been fired in the past for refusing to get flu shots and said that states like New York require it.
“Health care workers have three special ethical responsibilities,” Dr. Caplan said. “One is protect the vulnerable, people who are really at risk of a disease. Secondly, put patient interests for first. It doesn’t say, ‘put your choice first.’ Third, they’re supposed to do no harm.”
Dr. Caplan also condemned a comparison by the lead plaintiff in the Houston case, Ms. Bridges, between hospital workers and Nazi concentration camp prisoners.
He suggested that the hospital employees who refused to get vaccinated would be better off in a different line of work.
“It’s like you’re in the wrong job there, buddy,” he said.
With medical supplies depleted, vaccines scarce, doctors lamenting physical and mental fatigue and hospitals turning away patients for lack of beds or oxygen, health officials say they fear a wave like the one that ripped through India in April and May could be looming in western Kenya and other parts of Africa.
All of Africa is vulnerable, as the latest wave of the pandemic sweeps the continent, driven in part by more transmissible variants. Fewer than 1 percent of Africa’s people have been even partly vaccinated, by far the lowest rate for any continent.
“I think the greatest risk in Africa is to look at what happened in Italy earlier on and what happened in India and start thinking we are safe — to say it’s very far away from us and that we may not go the same way,” said Dr. Mark Nanyingi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Liverpool in Britain. He called a surge now gripping western Kenya a “storm on the horizon.”
Covid-related deaths in Africa climbed by nearly 15 percent last week compared to the previous one, based on available data from almost 40 nations, the World Health Organization said. But experts say the true scale of the pandemic far exceeds reported figures in Africa, where testing and tracing remain a challenge for many countries, and many nations do not collect mortality data.
In late May, before Kenya’s president and other leaders arrived to celebrate a major public holiday, health officials in Kisumu on Lake Victoria saw disaster brewing. Coronavirus cases were spiking, hospital isolation units were filling up and the highly contagious Delta variant had been found in Kenya for the first time — in Kisumu County.
Local health officials pleaded with the politicians to hold a virtual event instead, but their objections were waved away. In the weeks since, all reports show an alarming surge in infections and deaths in the county of just over 1.1 million people, with the virus sickening mostly young people.
“The India example is not lost to us,” Dr. Nyunya said.
The super-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is now responsible for about one in every five Covid-19 cases in the United States, and its prevalence has doubled in the last two weeks, health officials said on Tuesday.
First identified in India, Delta is one of several “variants of concern,” as designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. It has spread rapidly through India and Britain.
Its appearance in the United States is not surprising. And with vaccinations ticking up and Covid-19 case numbers falling, it’s unclear how much of a problem Delta will cause here. Still, its swift rise has prompted concerns that it might jeopardize the nation’s progress in beating back the pandemic.
“The Delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate Covid-19,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said at the briefing. The good news, he said, is that the vaccines authorized in the United States work against the variant. “We have the tools,” he said. “So let’s use them, and crush the outbreak.”
The White House on Tuesday publicly acknowledged that President Biden does not expect to meet his goal of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4 and will reach that milestone only for those aged 27 and older.
It would be the first time that Mr. Biden has failed to meet a vaccination goal he has set. If the rate of adult vaccinations continues on the current seven-day average, the country will come in just shy of Mr. Biden’s target, with about 67 percent of adults partly vaccinated by July 4, according to a New York Times analysis.
White House officials have argued that falling short by a few percentage points is not significant, given all the progress the nation has made against Covid-19. “We have built an unparalleled, first-of-its-kind, nationwide vaccination program,” Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House pandemic response coordinator, said at a news briefing. “This is a remarkable achievement.”
New reported doses administered by day
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Note: Line shows a seven-day average. Data not updated on some weekends and holidays. Includes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of March 5.
In announcing the goal on May 4, Mr. Biden made a personal plea to the unvaccinated, saying getting a shot was a “life and death” choice. According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 150 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and 177 million have received at least one dose.
Young adults aged 18 to 26 have so far proven particularly hard to persuade. Younger Americans are less likely to be vaccinated than their elders, and factors like income and education may affect vaccine hesitancy, according to two new studies by the C.D.C.
Mr. Zients and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, both stressed that the administration’s efforts would continue long after that benchmark is reached.
But health experts warn that the falloff in the vaccination rate could mean renewed coronavirus outbreaks this winter when cold weather drives people indoors, with high daily death rates in areas where comparatively few people have protected themselves with shots.
In recent weeks, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus have declined sharply nationwide. As of Monday, the seven-day average of new virus cases across the United States was 11,243 cases a day, a nearly 30 percent decrease over the last two weeks, according to a Times database.
Lazaro Gamio contributed reporting.
All three put their faith, at least in part, in easily accessible Chinese-made vaccines, which would allow them to roll out ambitious inoculation programs at a time when much of the world was going without.
But instead of freedom from the coronavirus, all three countries are now battling a surge in cases.
China kicked off its vaccine diplomacy campaign last year by pledging to provide a shot that would be safe and effective at preventing severe cases of Covid-19. Less certain at the time was how successful it and other vaccines would be at curbing transmission.
Now, examples from several countries suggest that the Chinese vaccines may not be very effective at preventing the spread of the virus, particularly the new variants. The experiences of those countries lay bare a harsh reality facing a post-pandemic world: The degree of recovery may depend on which vaccines governments give to their people.
Morgan Stanley will require employees and visitors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus when they enter its New York offices next month.
Starting July 12, employees, contingent workers, clients and visitors at Morgan Stanley’s buildings in New York City and Westchester County must attest that they are fully vaccinated, a person familiar with the matter said, citing a memo from Mandell Crawley, the bank’s chief human resources officer. Staff members who don’t will be required to work remotely, added the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss personnel-related matters.
Although the requirement relies on an honor system for now rather than proof of vaccination, it will allow the bank to lift other pandemic protocols, such as face coverings and physical distancing. Some office spaces for Morgan Stanley’s institutional securities, investment and wealth management divisions already allow only those who have gotten their shots to work from their desks.
Companies across America are grappling with the question of whether to ask employees about their vaccination status, or to require those returning to offices to be vaccinated. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said last month that both actions were legal. Still, some senior executives have worried about pushback from employees.
This month, Goldman Sachs said its employees in the United States would have to report their vaccination status. Other big Wall Street banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, are encouraging workers to disclose their vaccination status voluntarily. BlackRock, the asset manager, will allow only vaccinated staff to return to the office beginning next month, Bloomberg reported. Those firms, however, stopped short of also asking clients and visitors to attest to being vaccinated.
The Financial Times reported earlier on Morgan Stanley’s vaccine requirements.
Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has threatened to send anyone who refuses a coronavirus vaccine to jail, as the country grapples with one of the worst outbreaks in Asia.
“There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency,” Mr. Duterte said during a weekly television program late Monday, which included an expletive-laced rant against those who chose not to get a vaccine.
“If you do not want to get vaccinated, I will have you arrested,” Mr. Duterte added. “Don’t force my hand into it, and use a strong-arm method. Nobody wants that.”
He continued on to urge anyone who did not want to be vaccinated to “leave the Philippines,” and go elsewhere, like India or America.
Mr. Duterte, a strongman leader who has long used thuggery, threats and calls for violence as part of his political persona, said he was “exasperated” by citizens who chose not to heed the government on vaccination, before ordering all local officials to look for those refusing to be immunized.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said that jail time for those refusing shots would be illegal.
“There is no law that specifically empowers the president to order such arrests for said reasons, even if this is a health emergency,” Mr. Olalia said.
Mr. Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, a former rights lawyer, said on Tuesday that in Philippine jurisprudence, a president can compel compulsory vaccination. But he said that this should be supported by legislation.
The Philippines is struggling to tamp down one of Southeast Asia’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks, with the government on Monday reporting 5,249 new cases, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 1.3 million.
The authorities have been trying to acquire more vaccines and have secured a supply contract for 40 million shots from Pfizer-BioNTech. The country has some 12.7 million doses, most of them from Sinovac of China.
But the Philippine vaccination program has been hobbled by distribution bottlenecks, as well as public fears. In 2017, the government halted a dengue immunization program after shots developed by the French drug firm Sanofi were linked to a severe form of the disease.
More than 830,000 school children had received the shot and dozens of deaths were reported by the time it was halted.
Cuba began its Covid-19 mass vaccination campaign more than a month ago with homegrown, unproven vaccines, wagering that they would prove effective enough to blunt the rapid spread of the coronavirus on the cash-strapped Caribbean island.
The gamble appears to be paying off.
The Cuban health authorities said on Monday that their country’s three-shot Abdala vaccine had proved about 92 percent effective against the coronavirus in late-stage clinical trials.
Throughout the pandemic, Cuba has declined to import foreign vaccines while striving to develop its own, the smallest country in the world to do so.
The announcement places Abdala among the most effective Covid vaccines in the world, according to data from clinical trials, on a par with Pfizer-BioNTech’s 95 percent rate, Moderna’s 94.1 percent, and Russia’s Sputnik V at 91.6 percent.
On Saturday, Cuba’s state-run biotech corporation, BioCubaFarma, said that another of its vaccines, Sovereign 2, had 62 percent efficacy after two of its three required doses. Results for the full three doses are expected in the next few weeks.
The vaccine news was seen as a rare cause for celebration on an island that has been hammered both by the pandemic, which has devastated its tourism industry, and by Trump-era economic sanctions that have not been eased by the Biden administration.
Cuba is currently experiencing its worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic. It reported 1,561 new cases on Monday, a record.
In May the health authorities began a mass vaccination campaign in Havana before the completion of Phase 3 trials, which assess a vaccine’s effectiveness and safety. The emergency step was intended to help combat the Beta variant, first detected in South Africa, which was spreading rapidly in the Cuban capital. Close to one million Cubans — about 9 percent of the national population — have now received all three doses of either Abdala or Sovereign 2, according to official figures. Officials say they are seeing a slowing of the virus’s spread in Havana, where vaccinations have been concentrated so far.
Countries including Mexico, Argentina, Vietnam and Iran have expressed interest in Cuba’s coronavirus vaccines. The high announced rate of efficacy could reinforce hopes that biotechnology exports will help lift Cuba from the depths of its economic crisis.
India administered 8.6 million doses of Covid vaccines on Monday, setting a national record on the first day of a new policy that offers free vaccines for all adults and aims to energize a lackluster inoculation effort.
Despite a slow start characterized by supply shortages and bickering between the states and central government, officials say that vaccine production and procurement are being accelerated to ensure that all of India’s roughly 950 million adults are fully vaccinated by the end of the year.
Monday’s total was the most Covid shots given in a single day in any country besides China, and the surge may have been partly because the vaccines were widely available and free for the first time to those younger than 45.
Local news reports have also suggested that Monday’s record may have been made possible by holding back vaccines in some states run by the governing party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In one state, Madhya Pradesh, the number of administered doses had shrunk to just 692 a day before the start of the new policy on Monday, when 1.6 million doses were suddenly administered.
And the boost was probably temporary — available supplies suggest that it would be difficult to sustain such a pace over the coming weeks. India has increased the availability of doses to 120 million this month, from about 75 million in May. About 135 million doses are expected to be available in July.
The inoculation drive relies almost entirely on two vaccines manufactured in India, and government officials have said that the companies behind those vaccines, the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, have promised to deliver a total of about 1.3 billion doses from August to the end of the year. The remaining doses are expected to come from other vaccines still under assessment or trial.
In India, a nation of about 1.4 billion people, the task ahead remains enormous. Although the country has administered nearly 290 million doses of vaccines so far, according to government data, less than 5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Less than 20 percent of people have received at least one dose.
The government has worked to iron out supply issues and ease online registration requirements that have hampered vaccine access, especially in parts of the country where smartphone and internet availability are spotty. Still, vaccine hesitancy — born of local superstitions, as well as misinformation spread by some political and religious leaders — could be another hurdle for India before it meets its ambitious goal of inoculating all adults by the end of the year.
The effort to ramp up vaccinations comes as the worst of India’s devastating second wave appears to be over, with most of India’s major cities easing restrictions and reopening the economy. India reported about 42,000 new cases on Monday, down from a peak of more than 400,000 in early May. The weekly test positivity rate has remained below 5 percent for two consecutive weeks, a sign that undetected cases in the population are also decreasing.
At least 390,000 people have died of Covid in India, according to official figures, although experts believe that is a significant undercount.
Dreaming of golden beaches and the caress of tropical breezes? Then consider a holiday on the island of Phuket.
That’s the pitch being made by the government of Thailand, which has seen its tourism-dependent economy battered by the pandemic. On Tuesday, the Thai cabinet approved a plan, called Phuket Sandbox, that will allow vaccinated international visitors to roam the island without having to quarantine for 14 days, as is the current policy for arrivals in Thailand.
“I’m very excited that it’s finally happening,” said Nanthasiri Ronnasiri, the head of the Phuket branch of the Thai tourism authority. “Business here has been devastated. With this reopening, at least the people are being given the chance to welcome tourists again.”
But Phuket Sandbox — which is scheduled to start on July 1 with five flights from Singapore, Qatar, Israel and the United Arab Emirates — may not deliver the economic boost that its supporters were hoping for. And the late date of formal approval, with many international travelers having already made summer plans, makes it unlikely that crowds of sun seekers will be descending on the island anytime soon.
The plan allows for tourists fully inoculated with World Health Organization-approved vaccines to spend 14 days on Phuket without having to be confined to a hotel room. After two weeks and multiple Covid-19 tests, the tourists, who must be from countries considered at low or medium risk for the coronavirus, will be allowed to travel to the rest of Thailand.
While in Phuket, they will be able to swim and snorkel, drink beer and enjoy an invigorating Thai massage, all with hardly any restrictions. (Masks are still mandatory in public, however.)
Health officials have warned that Phuket Sandbox could be suspended if coronavirus infections on the island rise beyond 90 cases per week. Thailand is currently suffering from its worst outbreak since the pandemic began, and a mass vaccine rollout is far behind schedule. Only about 3 percent of the country’s 70 million people have been fully vaccinated, despite government promises to administer 100 million doses by the end of the year.
To prepare for Phuket’s reopening, the Thai government began funneling vaccines to the island this year. Even so, less than 45 percent of people in Phuket have been fully vaccinated, according to health officials. And many were inoculated with the Sinovac vaccine, which may not be as effective against variants as other shots.
Some Thai doctors argue that the country shouldn’t open up so quickly, even for a pilot project on a sequestered island.
“There is still a risk when you welcome them without quarantining that they carry the virus into the country, especially when it is the variant of concern,” said Thira Woratanarat, a public health expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “There will be a chance that it will spread in the community.”
The semifinal and final matches of this summer’s European soccer championship will be played as scheduled at Wembley Stadium in London, tournament organizers said Tuesday, ending speculation that Britain’s pandemic travel restrictions would prompt a relocation.
European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, reached a deal with the British government after days of intense talks over UEFA’s request for exemptions that would allow thousands of overseas supporters — and as many as 2,500 V.I.P.s — to attend the matches.
The statement announcing the agreement did not specify which exemptions had been granted. But it said that the stadium’s attendance ceiling would be raised to 75 percent of capacity for the matches — the biggest crowds to attend a sporting event in Britain since the start of the pandemic.
Officials briefed on the statement said the British government had broadly agreed to let in the V.I.P.s — including commercial and broadcast partners and soccer dignitaries — but would probably admit only a small number of supporters from nations involved in the matches.
A recent surge in coronavirus cases in Britain has forced the government to back away from plans to lift its remaining social-distancing restrictions this week. Several members of the Scotland and England teams who played a game at Wembley last week are now in isolation after testing positive.
Colombia, where a surging coronavirus and a dearth of vaccines have led to widespread protests, has surpassed 100,000 recorded Covid-19 deaths, just the 10th country to pass that milestone.
Colombia and the wider Latin American region have become emblematic of the global divide between richer nations like the United States, Britain and Israel, which have reliable access to Covid vaccines, and poorer ones that lack them and are left grappling with rising death tolls.
The crisis has been particularly acute in South America, now home to seven of the 10 countries with the highest average daily death toll per person, according to a New York Times database. The list also includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay. On Sunday, the Covid-19 death toll in Brazil surpassed 500,000, putting it behind only the United States and India in the total number of deaths.
The situation in South America is in sharp contrast with wealthier countries, where government officials have lifted emergency orders that require people to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Colombia has been averaging more than 500 deaths per day since the spring, according to the Colombian Ministry of Health. On Monday, Colombia reported 648 deaths, another record.
Less than 10 percent of Colombia’s population of about 51 million is fully vaccinated, public health data showed.
Colombia’s surge has steadily been worsening for months.
In the spring, Claudia López, the mayor of Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, warned residents that they should brace for the “worst two weeks” of their lives.
The crisis has exacerbated public anger in Colombia, with demonstrations over a pandemic-related tax overhaul intensifying as the nation grapples with rising infections and deaths.
There has also been an uptick in abuses by the national police force, with officers beating, detaining and killing protesters, sometimes opening fire on peaceful demonstrations and shooting tear gas canisters from armored vehicles, according to interviews by The New York Times with witnesses and family members of the dead and injured.
Tens of millions of people in 43 countries could soon face famine, partly because of soaring food prices compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations World Food Program said on Tuesday.
The potential famines are one example of how economic inequality worsens the pandemic’s devastation. The disparities between wealthy and developing countries have become more glaring as countries like the United States and Britain secured ample vaccine supplies while poorer countries in parts of Africa, Asia and South America struggled to get doses.
Many developing nations have long faced challenges to food security, like conflict and climate change. The pandemic complicated their problems by snarling supply chains and stalling agricultural production, driving up the cost of food.
Recent assessments indicate that 584,000 people in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen are already suffering famine, the World Food Program said in a statement. Without urgent funding and humanitarian aid, the agency said, tens of millions more could soon join them.
“Forty-one million people are literally knocking on famine’s door,” David Beasley, the World Food Program’s executive director, told a board meeting on Monday, the statement said.
“We are not only facing a global health pandemic, but also a global humanitarian catastrophe,” Mr. Beasley said. “Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the specter of famine a very real and dangerous possibility.”
After the World Food Program won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for its efforts to combat global hunger, Mr. Beasley said that the world would be “facing famines of biblical proportions if we don’t act.”
The 41 million people who are now at risk represent an increase of about 50 percent from 2019, the World Food Program said. Mr. Beasley estimated that it would take about $6 billion to stave off disaster for them.
“We need funding, and we need it now,” he said.
Nearly 80 percent of American high school juniors and seniors say the coronavirus pandemic has affected their plans after graduation, and 72 percent of 13- to 19-year-olds have struggled with their mental health, a new survey shows.
The survey, conducted by America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit group, found that 58 percent of teenagers reported learning entirely or mostly online in the 2020-21 school year, and 22 percent said they had learned about half online and half in person. Nineteen percent said they had learned mostly through in-person instruction.
The results are from a nationally representative survey of 2,400 high school students conducted in March and April.
Given the extraordinary swell of racial-justice activism over the past year, the survey also asked students about how their schools had handled race issues. Two-thirds reported that “the history of racism” had been taught at their schools. But Asian, Black, Latino and multiracial students were less likely than white students to say that the curriculum represented their own “racial and ethnic background.”
Among those who said the pandemic had affected their plans after high school, one-third said they would attend college closer to home; one-quarter said they would attend a two-year college instead of a four-year institution; 17 percent said they would attend college remotely rather than in person’; and 16 percent said they would put off attending college. Seven percent said they were no longer planning to attend college.
Nearly half the group of respondents who changed their plans said they were doing so because of financial pressure, suggesting that the pandemic will probably widen educational inequalities among young adults.