‘I’m not going to be forced’: Hundreds protest Atrium, Novant’s employee vaccine mandate

CHARLOTTE — Hundreds, if not thousands, of people gathered at Freedom Park in Charlotte on Sunday to make their voices heard as they pushed back against Atrium and Novant Health’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.

Atrium and Novant made the announcement last week. Atrium said all employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 31. Novant’s employees must be vaccinated by Sept. 15.

The demonstrators marched from Freedom Park to Atrium Health and made it clear that they believe Atrium and Novant are wrong for mandating that staff get vaccinated.

“I think it’s wrong to mandate that our nurses have to take an experimental vaccine,” protester Demetria Reedy said.

Hundreds of people gathered at Freedom Park in Charlotte to make their voices heard against Atrium and Novant Health’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.

Many who attended the march were the same anti-mask, anti-vaccine protesters Channel 9 has seen in the past, but there were also plenty of medical professionals -- some of whom work for Atrium or Novant.

Jane Nymberg is a registered nurse and has worked for Atrium for 25 years. She doesn’t want to leave, but she said she will if they force her to get the shot.

“I’m not going to be forced to take an experimental vaccine that potentially could injure me or kill me. The chances of that are low. But if it happens, I will be responsible,” she said.

The medical professionals who have said no to the vaccine run the risk of getting fired -- something that has already happened in some hospitals around the country.

“I don’t think that, I don’t believe it’s right to put that kind of choice in front of somebody,” nurse Kelly Cook said.

Another reason protesters were out in force Sunday was because they believe this rule lays the groundwork for mandating vaccines across the country.

Hundreds of people gathered at Freedom Park in Charlotte to make their voices heard against Atrium and Novant Health’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.

Atrium sent out an emergency room physician to respond to protesters and to talk about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases. He was not in a position to say if those who don’t take the shot will be fired.

“Everyone who works for Atrium or any healthcare system across the country has taken an oath to put patients’ welfare first,” said Dr. Dave Calloway with Atrium. “And what I would say is if your mind has changed on your oath, then you should take a look in the mirror and realize our job, in the middle of a pandemic that has killed 700,000 Americans, is to protect our community, protect the vulnerable and, in this case, that means getting vaccinated.”

While it’s not 100% clear what the hospitals will do, legal experts said hospitals will be well within their rights to fire workers who don’t take the shot, and the workers will have very little recourse.

Statement from Atrium Health on the protests:

“Atrium Health has a long history of protecting the health of our patients, our teammates and the communities we serve. With the new and more contagious variants now causing hospitalizations to rise across our region, we are requiring teammates to be vaccinated against the virus – to avoid catching or spreading it to others in our hospitals or other clinical environments.

“Most doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are drawn to their profession because they want to help and care for other people – specifically to help them get and stay well and live longer, healthier lives. The new COVID-19 vaccine requirement is designed to do exactly that, since the science shows that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and continue to save countless lives.

“We greatly value all of our teammates who have shown such dedication to our patients, their loved ones and to each other during the pandemic, and we respect the rights of those who have chosen to have their voices heard 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.”

(WATCH BELOW: Nurses, medical workers take stance against COVID-19 vaccine mandates)