More than 100 protesters gathered in front of Torrance Memorial Medical Center to protest the coronavirus vaccine mandate on Friday, October 1, a day after county and state vaccination requirements for health care workers went into effect.
The event was organized by a nurse representing colleagues who were suspended over their choice not to get vaccinated.
The California Department of Public Health issued a public health order on August 5 requiring workers in state health care facilities to be vaccinated by Thursday, Sept. 30. Los Angeles County also updated its health order to align with the state.
A spokesman for the hospital said that about 96% of Torrance Memorial’s nearly 5,700 workers have been vaccinated with their primary vaccination series. But more than 40 employees, including a cardiologist, have been suspended without pay for not complying with the order and could be fired at the end of the month if they do not obey.
Heather Garza, a nurse at Torrance Memorial who organized the protest, said she did it to stand up for her colleagues who “forcibly refused vaccination.”
“It is already affecting firefighters, police officers, longshoremen, first responders, teachers and now children,” Garza said Friday, referring to Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement that eligible students should get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, several school districts in Southern California have made vaccines mandatory for their employees, including faculty.
Garza also said that over time he has seen more and more people have COVID-19 – including severe symptoms – despite vaccination.
“People are still getting COVID and people who have been fully vaccinated are getting severe COVID,” she said. “I’m seeing it in my patients, we’re seeing it in the ER.”
Public health officials, for their part, have consistently said that increasing vaccination rates is the best way to end the pandemic.
“We thank all health workers adhering to state and county vaccination requirements,” Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Friday. “Their support ensures that we are protecting each other and our patients as we follow these and other public health safeguards.”
Other protesters on Friday, however, criticized the vaccine mandate for their blanket application – by not exempting people who have already contracted the virus – and due to unknown long-term effects.
“I recovered from COVID in 2020 and natural immunity and studies show it’s better immunity,” said Torrance Memorial employee Bianca Barrios. “I don’t think there are enough long-term studies for this vaccine, especially for people who have recovered.”
Barrios said she was denied religious or medical exemptions, and was given 30 days to comply with the state health order.
Meanwhile, officials at Torrance Memorial Medical Center said in a statement that they are working to fully implement policies that comply with the state’s new requirements.
“We encourage all eligible, unvaccinated caregivers and providers to receive their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible,” the statement said.