GRAFTON, Wis. - The fight over whether employers can force workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine is growing, as more and more places say they will require it.
In Grafton on Friday, Aug. 6, more than 75 people protested outside an Ascension clinic. It and the area's other large health care companies are now requiring employees get vaccinated, including: Advocate Aurora, Ascension, Children's Wisconsin, Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin, ProHealth and UW Health.
FOX6 News asked those protesters to speak on camera about their concerns, but all chose against. Some nurses said they were worried about their jobs, others were worried their statements would be taken out of context, and still others expressed a general distrust of the media.
The issue of vaccine mandates is dividing America.
The Kaiser Family Foundation found 51% of the country supports employers requiring the vaccine, while 46% are opposed.
"I believe it should be a choice. I don’t think that anything should be forced upon us, especially something of this nature," said nursing assistant Taylor Falesnik in a Zoom call with FOX6. "We still don’t know the long-term effects. And it’s still in the emergency use phase."
Falesnik risks losing her job, and she has organized a change.org petition against health care mandates; more than 11,000 people have signed it so far.
"Through the whole pandemic we have been on the frontlines, we have been the essential workers, we have been the health care heroes, we’ve been there supporting our co-workers, our patients, our organizations and the community during that hard time," Falesnik said. "We worked through staffing shortages, we worked through high-patient numbers, PPE shortages, and we stayed, and we stuck through that and we devoted our time and our lives to that. We risked our lives doing that, and it’s very sad that we’re very disposable at this point in time."
Protest in Grafton against COVID-19 vaccine requirements
The American Medical Association asked for the mandates, citing the highly contagious delta variant, along with rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said she supports vaccine requirements. In fact, Milwaukee is still working on a mandate of its own for city employees.
"I think as health care workers specifically, we need to protect those more vulnerable than we are," Johnson said. "The vaccine, we know it works, we know it’s effective and we know it's safe. Certainly, I’m not dismissing anyone who's had an adverse reaction, my heart goes out to their families, they made the right choice and then having something happen, but overwhelmingly those are rare cases and the vaccine is effective, and we really need people to take it to protect the most vulnerable."
Wisconsin Capitol, Madison
Protests against the requirement will pop up at other places, including Tuesday, Aug. 10 at the Wisconsin Capitol.
Wisconsin Senate President Chris Kapenga put out a statement supporting health care workers opposed to the mandates. He said it's an important test case that other employers are watching.
"I want to encourage the groups that are forming to stick to your principles and don’t give in! Based on what I am seeing, it will be impossible for the hospital systems to function without you," Kapenga wrote. "You are still our heroes even though the executives have made the choice to turn their backs on you. Lead the way in this pandemic. Many companies are watching this battle to see how it plays out. If you stand up for your protection now, others who are considering implementing the vaccination mandate will back off, and you will once again be leading in the protection of our health."
The Wisconsin Medical Society Board Chairman Dr. Jerry Halverson criticized Kapenga's comments.
"Elected leaders can play an important role in fighting this pandemic. Vaccinations for deadly and debilitating diseases like polio, measles and now COVID-19 are medical miracles that have vastly improved our country’s health," wrote Halverson. "Urging people to avoid vaccinations works against what we all want: beating COVID-19, saving lives and getting our kids back into school. Anyone who has questions about vaccines should reach out to their physician. Your health is more important than politics."
The Supreme Court of the United States on Friday, Aug. 6 was asked to weigh the issue; a group of Indiana University students are challenging that school's vaccine requirement.