A Hospital Finds an Unlikely Group Opposing Vaccination: Its Workers

John Matland is a CT scanner technician at Staten Island University Hospital. He was the de facto leader for "The Resistance" in New York on Aug. 16, 2021. (Yana Paskova/The New York Times).
NEW YORK The movement began discreetly with a few people using encrypted apps such as Signal and WhatsApp to communicate. It grew tenfold in just a few days. Within two weeks, it was a full-blown protest with people waving picket flags to protest attempts to force them to get coronavirus vaccinations.

These were not vaccine resisters. These were nurses, doctors, technicians and other staff at Staten Island's hospital, which has the highest COVID-19 rate of any borough in New York City.

Last week, Staten Island University Hospital employees sang, "I am not a laboratory rat!" as they cheered for passing fire trucks and cars.

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Even though there is a lot of opposition to vaccination, regular testing at a New York City hospital shows that the challenge of reaching those who are not vaccinated is real.

Staten Island hospital medical staff are so opposed to each other that they call themselves The Resistance after Star Wars rebel faction. Their leader is trying to gather hospital workers from other states to form a national movement.

Medical professionals and scientists agree that patients who refuse to receive vaccines could be at risk. Dr. Mark Jarrett is chief medical officer of Northwell Health. Staten Island University Hospital runs Northwell Health. This is a difficult issue but it is our professional responsibility to ensure that our patients are safe.

He expressed optimism that the imminent federal approval for the Pfizer vaccine would persuade some unvaccinated people to get shots.

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Public health officials are trying to increase vaccination rates for front-line medical staff as the delta variant of the coronavirus, which is highly transmissible, drives an epidemic in the United States. According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health, only 1 in 3 of the nation's 50 largest hospitals had received any vaccines as of May.

Protests on Staten Island began last Monday, when Northwell Health required that unvaccinated employees undergo weekly coronavirus testing by nasal swab. Otherwise, they could lose their jobs. Governor. Andrew Cuomo declared that every state health worker would have to receive at least one dose by Sept. 27. There are limited exceptions for religious or medical exemptions.

Northwell claims that the mandate was established to protect patients. Northwell spokesperson stated that they were aiming to have 100% of their staff vaccinated. They also used various tactics to encourage hesitant employees, such as offering spa days. The hospital system had encouraged flu vaccinations before the pandemic and required that employees not vaccinated to use masks among patients.

Some protestors, who are critical of scientific data and wary about mandates that they claim infringe their civil rights, have stated they are open to losing their jobs. Others said they considered moving out of the state to Florida where there are less hospital requirements and more hospitalizations.

New York's majority of more than 600,000. health care workers are fully vaccinated. However, there are many others. According to the state, 75% of approximately 450,000 state hospital workers, 74%, 30,000 state adult care facility workers, and 68%, 145,500 state nursing home workers, have been fully vaccinated.

Modes of persuasion that included free cash, burgers, and rides on the MTA were unsuccessful in persuading vaccine refusers. This led some hospitals systems to adopt a more harsh approach which has sparked a backlash. The largest health care union in America held a rally last month after NewYork-Presbyterian mandated that all workers get at least one shot of vaccine by Sept. 1.

A recent focus group held at Staten Island University Hospital on how to convince employees to get vaccinated revealed that officials told them that approximately 60% of staff were vaccinated. Northwell Health didn't confirm this figure, but it said that 77% of employees have been vaccinated in Northwell's 23 hospitals throughout the city and state.

John Matland (36), a CT scanner technician, is the de facto leader of hospital employees. He is also a friend of Daniel Presti who manages Macs Public House bar on Staten Island. Presti was famous for his defiance of virus restrictions last year.

The high infection rate meant that indoor dining was prohibited in the area. However, Presti continued to serve local customers within the bar, prompting police to make Presti a suspect and lock the bar.

Matland has gathered a group of workers who feel isolated because they don't need to be tested for the virus. However, they can still get infected and pass it on. Others argue that the vaccine is unnecessary because they have already been infected by the coronavirus. Experts say that prior infections do not protect everyone and recommend everyone get vaccinated. Although breakthrough infections are on the rise due to the delta variant of the virus, early data suggests that vaccines are not effective. Experts disagree. Unvaccinated individuals are still more likely to contract COVID-19 than those who have been vaccinated. However, vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of death and hospitalization from the virus.

Matland was part of the focus group that explored what punishments could be used to encourage unvaccinated employees. There were three options: being denied leave of absence for exposure to quarantine; losing the right to take part in employee appreciation barbecues; and losing points that employees can cash in for gift certificates or products. Matland stated that he did not choose any of these options.

Even small defections can put pressure on Staten Island's hospital. Staten Island, a Republican enclave had the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations of any borough in July.

Matland stated that three quarters of the staff at the ultrasound department have said they are unsure if they will get the vaccine. Matland stated that 4 out 10 employees at the southern campus hospital's radiology department are not vaccinated. Many will not cave.

He said that losing four radiologists would cause a major crisis in the department.

He was fired on Thursday without pay.

Nelly DeSilvio (43), a phlebotomist said that half the 30 people in her section were not vaccinated. This would be huge if we all left. Our staff is already very short.

Opposition has grown beyond Staten Island, to include Long Island Jewish Medical Center, another Northwell facility, where protests were held this Week.

Sandra Lindsay, Director of Critical Care Nursing at Queens/Long Island Border Hospital, was the first American to get vaccinated. She has been trying to convince 25 of her 250 co-workers to get the vaccine.

She said that she doesn't believe in vaccine-shame. While people should be free to feel what they want, our profession as health-care workers is grounded in science and should follow the example of what we preach.

Rachael Piltch Loeb, a New York University researcher who conducted a survey of unvaccinated health workers, stated that although aversion to vaccination is often influenced by ideologies or people's attitudes towards vaccines in general. However, it is important to consider the impact of the training received by health care workers.

She said that medical professionals are often trained in assessing each patient and making a recommendation. Therefore, the idea that there should be an universal health policy that applies to everyone and is decided by the government, rather than a doctor on a case-by–case basis, is not how they were trained to work.

The distrust that exists among health care workers has not been dispelled by data. DeSilvio is, for instance, convinced that most patients who were hospitalized at Staten Island University Hospital with coronavirus were vaccinated. However, Northwell officials claim the contrary.

Others have also cited isolated, unusual incidents as evidence that vaccines are not trustworthy.

Yolanda Mozdzen (43), a medical assistant, wanted to be among the first to receive the vaccine. After receiving the Moderna vaccine in December, Yolanda Mozdzen, 43, began to have seizures.

According to her doctor's letter, the adverse reaction caused an autoimmune disorder. Mozdzen still has symptoms such as vertigo and short-term memory loss eight months after she received the vaccine.

Mozdzen stated that she had to fight for proper compensation. She said that she was left broke. If they knew they would be taken good care of, people would be more likely to agree to the vaccination.

The members of the chat group shared their experiences, which encouraged those who don't want to be vaccinated.

Mozdzen quit last week.

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