Nurses, protesters rally against hospital vaccine mandate in Elgin
Holding signs reading "My body, my choice" and "I call the shots," about 60 protesters, many of them nurses, lined Randall Road in front of Advocate Sherman Hospital on Wednesday to rally against the hospital chain's vaccination mandate for employees.
Sherman's parent company, Advocate Aurora Health, will require employees to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by Oct. 15, affecting about 75,000 people.
"We're here to fight for our rights, for the freedom of choice," said Jacquie Loiacono, an ICU nurse at Sherman who helped organize the protest. She said another rally is planned for Thursday at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital near Barrington.
"We give our patients the information regarding all the side effects, the benefits and the risks for any procedure, treatment or medication and they ultimately have the choice to take it or refuse it," Loiacono said. "Why is different for us? When we sit in that chair and get the vaccine, we are the patient and we should get the same rights that they do."
In a statement, Advocate Aurora Health said the company respected employees' rights to peaceful protest, but "at that same time our top priority is to provide high quality, safe care for our patients who depend on us."
"We continue to believe that requiring vaccines for all our team members is the right thing to do to keep our patients, communities and each other safe and healthy," the statement read.
Loiacono said about 30% to 40% of the protesters Wednesday were nurses at the hospital, many of whom were vaccinated but were against the idea of a mandate.
Natalie Miller, a labor and delivery nurse who has worked at Sherman for 12 years, said she was vaccinated in December.
"I'm here because I think it shouldn't be forced," she said. "It's still kind of a new vaccine and there's a lot of risks still to it, and I believe that it should be a choice versus forced as a condition of employment."
Advocate Aurora joined Loyola Medicine, University of Chicago Medicine, University of Illinois Health and Rush Health in requiring employees to be vaccinated. COVID hospitalizations across Advocate Aurora Health have increased more than eightfold in the past month, company officials said.
Kathy Wollman, a critical care nurse who said she'd had COVID, as had many of her family members, said she isn't opposed to vaccines and that her five children have had all their standard vaccinations.
"For me, this vaccine hasn't been studied enough," she said. "Those (standard) vaccines had 10, 15, 20, 30 years of trials before they were released. We've had a few months."
"I'm more afraid of the vaccine than I am of COVID. I worked in the ICU so I know what COVID does. I've seen many people die of it."
Wollman said she won't get vaccinated by the Sept. 15 deadline for the first shot and will file for a religious exemption.
"I'm not living in fear," she said. "I put my trust in God, and if COVID is supposed to kill me, if that's my time, I trust my god and his will."