Hundreds of people demonstrated in North Carolina in response to Atrium Health’s recent announcement that all employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Protesters marched from Freedom Park to the Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte to protest the decision. Among those attending the rally are a large number of Atrium employees, as well as anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters. With over 70,000 employees, Atrium Health, one of Charlotte’s largest healthcare systems, recently announced that all staff members must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 31 in order to protect themselves and others in the face of rising cases of the Delta variant in the state and across the country.

Novant Health also stated that all of its employees would be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID by September 15.

Those who have a valid religious or medical exemption will be exempt from receiving the vaccine. During the march against Atrium Health’s new coronavirus vaccination policy on Sunday, protesters were seen holding placards that read “my body, my choice,” with at least one person also holding a Nazi swastika.

“It’s a legal right. People gave their lives in order for us to have our rights. It’s not right to take away our freedom; we’re people, too. For over a year, we made sacrifices on the front lines. Why don’t we have the same rights as the rest of the population and our patients?”

Another Atrium Health employee at the protest, who requested anonymity, stated that she has decided not to get the vaccine because she is pregnant and breastfeeding. “This mandate concerns me as a breastfeeding mother,” she said. “There has been no research into the safety of all current COVID-19 vaccines in lactating women, the effects of vaccination on a breastfed baby, or the effects on milk production or excretion. Neither myself nor my colleagues should be forced to participate in a clinical trial unless we have given our explicit informed consent, which gives us the right to choose.”

Jane Nymberg, a registered nurse with Atrium for 25 years, said she is considering quitting if she is forced to get the vaccine.

The protest was peaceful, with no reports of disorder or arrests as a result of it. Atrium Health stated that requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID is no different than requiring employees to get annual flu shots or ensure they are vaccinated against other infectious diseases such as measles or chicken pox.

Atrium Health said in a statement to local media about the planned protest, “Atrium Health has a long history of protecting the health of our patients, our teammates, and the communities we serve.”

With new and more contagious variants of the virus causing an increase in hospitalizations across our region, we are requiring teammates to be vaccinated against the virus in order to avoid catching or spreading it to others in our hospitals or other clinical settings.

“Most doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals pursue their careers because they want to help and care for others, specifically to help them get and stay well and live longer, healthier lives. The new COVID-19 vaccine requirement is intended to do just that, as science shows that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and continue to save countless lives.”

“We are grateful to all of our teammates who have shown such dedication to our patients, their loved ones, and each other during the pandemic, and we respect the rights of those who have chosen to express themselves in a peaceful and civil manner. Open communication is something we embrace at Atrium Health.

“We encourage our teammates to share any concerns they may have directly with their leaders if they have questions about our vaccination requirement.”