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Workers, supporters protest vaccine requirement by Southcentral Foundation, ANTHC

The two large tribal health organizations say the requirement is to protect staff, community
Published: Aug. 6, 2021 at 3:37 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - With the deadline approaching for employees at two of the state’s largest tribal health organizations to become vaccinated against COVID-19 as a requirement for employment, several workers and supporters took to the streets in a protest Thursday evening.

A crowd gathered on the street outside the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, waving signs at passing vehicles and protesting the vaccine requirements put in place last month by the Southcentral Foundation and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

The two tribal health corporations announced in July that getting a vaccine would become a requirement for employment. Their employees have until Oct. 15 to be in compliance.

Matt Lindburg, who works for Southcentral Foundation, and his wife Melissa were among the protesters on Thursday.

“My job’s on the line if I don’t get vaccinated,” he said. “And I’ve chosen not to get vaccinated because I’ve already got antibodies and I don’t feel like I need to take the risk to get vaccinated.”

“No jab, no job. That’s not OK,” Melissa Lindburg said. “You’re taking away our freedoms by forcing somebody to do something. Maybe we want to take the vaccine, but not when they give us a choice like that.”

In a statement on Friday, Southcentral Foundation President and CEO April Kyle said the organization has been working hard to provide “safe and effective health care throughout” the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The policy that makes COVID-19 vaccination an employment requirement is part SCF’s effort to stop the spread of the virus and keep customer-owners, employees, and the community safe,” Kyle said in the statement. “We acknowledge the importance of this decision and did not make it lightly. The vaccines have proved to be safe and effective against infections, hospitalizations, and death. We value and respect all of our employees and recognize that choosing whether to get vaccinated is a personal decision.”

Ali Burril, a nurse, joined the protest to support the Southcentral Foundation and ANTHC employees who are against the requirement.

“I am here because I’m a nurse in the community and I believe I give all my patients — and have protected my patients and their medical freedom choice, and protected that, and now it’s my turn to be able to protect my own and everybody else in this community as well,” Burril said.

She said she thinks every person has a choice of what they put in their body.

Scott Anderson, another protester not affiliated with either organization, said he was there to support the employees.

“If we don’t support them now, sooner or later it’ll be us that’s defending ourselves,” he said.

Anderson said that if people don’t stand up for their rights as individuals, and ignore someone else’s problem, soon it’ll become their problem as well.

“I don’t believe in the government forcing us to put an experimental goo into our body,” he said.

Protesters congregated on the sidewalk and waved signs, some of which read “my body, my choice” and “you’re next.”

In a statement sent to Alaska’s News Source on Friday, ANTHC President Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson said the “sharp increase” of COVID-19 patients has stretched staff and resources thin throughout Alaska’s hospitals, including at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

“As a statewide tribal health organization, we have seen first-hand the disproportionate burden that Alaska Native and American Indian people have endured from COVID-19 and from previous pandemics,” the statement read. “COVID-19 vaccines continue to show that they are safe and effective at preventing death and greatly reduce severe illness that can require hospitalization, including against the new delta variant.”

Davidson wrote that ANTHC has a responsibility to ensure the highest level of care for its staff and surrounding communities.

“While we respect the rights of those who chose to demonstrate yesterday and thank them for doing so respectfully, we are committed to providing a vaccinated work force to protect our patients, staff, and our communities,” the statement reads. “The decision to require the COVID-19 vaccination for our employees was not made lightly. We see all of the personal sacrifices our front-line workers in particular have made the last 18 months caring for our communities during this unprecedented time. We consulted with medical providers and reviewed data that supports the known effectiveness and safety of the vaccines available as the best course to protect our staff and patients during the ongoing pandemic.”

The statement noted that the consortium’s employees not only care for patients in the hospital, but also travel to Alaska’s rural communities to provide services.

“These employee health requirements are necessary to protect our employees and those we serve throughout the state,” Davidson wrote in the statement.

She said ANTHC is thankful for the majority of employees who have already chosen to get the vaccine.

“We also understand some may make a personal choice to remain unprotected and work elsewhere,” the statement reads.

Employers requiring employees to become vaccinated is still a bit of a legal gray area. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says whether employers or local governments require vaccines is a matter of state or “other applicable” law.

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