BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A new front in the vaccination wars opened Friday in Bakersfield where local health care workers and their allies rallied outside three of the city’s five largest hospitals in objection to the governor’s mandate requiring them to be vaccinated by the end of next month.
The morning protests by healthcare workers, held in succession 90 minutes apart at three Dignity Health-affiliated hospitals, were organized by a group called American Healthcare Workers for Medical Freedom. The protesters say the mandate violates their right to personal autonomy.
The protestors started at 8 a.m. in front of Memorial Hospital, moved to Mercy Hospital Downtown and finished at Mercy Southwest, where, by this time, the group had grown to roughly 150.
One protester, Larry Vasquez, said the mandate goes against his rights of self-determination.
“We should be able to have a choice in this matter,” he said. “I love seeing us out here peacefully protesting. It’s a foundation to our country. And for them to able to fight back on something and make their voices heard.”
Memorial and Mercy hospitals released statement addressing the protests that in part said they “are committed to making our communities safer and healthier” and “will comply with the state of California’s Public Health Order requiring health care workers in California hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and most health care settings be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30.”
Further, they “appreciate and value meaningful dialogue” but nonetheless they “strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t already been vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so as quickly as possible. “
Vaccinations have nearly replaced mask-wearing as the most contentious health issue in the country today. It seems to be especially controversial in Kern County, which has a much lower vaccination rate than other parts of the state.
Just for comparison’s sake, the city and county of San Francisco, where the vaccination rate among the eligible population is 78%, on Friday began requiring proof of vaccination if you want to enter virtually any building, including private businesses.
The Kern County population is almost exactly the same as San Francisco and the vaccination percentage among the eligible population is just 45%.
But the virus knows no geopolitical boundaries.
Adventist Health Bakersfield, which was not subjected to protests Friday, told KGET they have put their emergency tents back up for potential COVID-19 overflow — and among the COVID patients they have now, 99.14& are unvaccinated.
Dignity Health said its three Bakersfield hospitals, as of Friday, had 104 COVID-19 patients and just under 95% of those patients are unvaccinated.
Statistics like those don’t impress this group, however.
We’ve all heard the phrase My Body, My Choice. We heard it a lot at Friday’s vaccination protests — in a very different context.