WINCHESTER — About 100 people protesting Valley Health’s recent COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its employees lined Amherst Street at the entrance to Winchester Medical Center on Monday afternoon.

Some held signs that said “Stop medical mandates,” “My body my choice,” “Coercion is not medical consent” and “Freedom of medical choice.”

On July 19, Valley Health — parent company of Winchester Medical Center and five other hospitals in the region — announced it will require all of its workers, providers and contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning Nov. 1. Employees who do not have an approved exemption and remain unvaccinated will face suspension or termination.

The protest, which was peaceful overall, according to the Winchester Police Department, was organized by the recently formed Valley Health Workers Association. The group was created in response to the vaccine mandate. A similar protest was held Sunday evening outside Valley Health’s Warren Memorial Hospital in Front Royal.

Brittany Watson, one of the organizers, has been a registered nurse at Winchester Medical Center for eight years. She said the mandate is taking away her choice to have a say about her body and her health.

“I think everybody should have a choice [as to] what they want to do,” Watson said. “We’ve had these loyal employees really fight [COVID-19], especially the ICU, the respiratory therapists, the nurses, the techs, and then they repay us by telling us what to do after 16 months with our bodies.”

Watson said she wishes there could be a compromise between those who want to remain unvaccinated and Valley Health’s goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19. She said she would be willing to get tested for the virus on a regular basis and continue to wear the needed personal protective equipment.

But she said she’s also willing to lose her job if she has no choice other than to be vaccinated. She said she personally opposes getting the vaccine because she believes she already has immunity from COVID-19 after contracting it in November. She also thinks efforts to promote the vaccine is “propaganda” by the U.S. government and that the long-term effects of the vaccine are unknown.

Many cars passing the protesters honked their horns in support, while some drivers felt compelled to speak out against them.

“I hope you are not my nurse when I come in,” one driver said.

“Get the shot,” another person shouted from a passing vehicle.

Valley Health has 6,300 employees and affiliated physicians across its network of six hospitals and medical office partners. About 73% of its employees are currently vaccinated, a spokesperson confirmed Monday. That’s an 8% increase within the past two weeks.

Not all of the protestors on Monday were Valley Health employees.

The Rev. Don Capps of Stephens City came out to show his support. While he said he isn’t “anti-vax,” he does not support the idea of people being forced to take medicine against their will. He held a sign that said, “Don’t jab me Joe!,” a reference to President Joe Biden.

Others protestors said they are concerned the Valley Health policy will lead to other local companies requiring their workers to get the vaccine.

Sabrina Kesterson, a registered nurse at Winchester Medical Center for the past 3½ years, said she resigned from her job over the mandate and will be working elsewhere. She held a sign that said, “Trust God not the vaccine.”

“I 100% have protected my patients,” said Kesterson, a West Virginia resident. She said she wore a mask when she was at work and bought her own pair of protective prescription glasses with side shields.

Natalie Miller, a registered nurse at Winchester Medical Center for four years, said she is hopeful she can keep her job by applying for a religious or medical exemption. She said she supports those who choose to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but she still believes she should have a choice regarding her own body.

As the protesters and a small group of counter protesters yelled back and forth across Amherst Street, Miller said it was hard to watch the division the vaccine has caused.

Elisabet Michaelsen, 75, of Winchester, was one of about five counter protesters. She held a sign that said, “COVID shots save lives.”

Another counter protester held a sign that said, “Science is the cure for bull****.”

Michaelsen said it was her civic duty to stand up against those who do not support getting the COVID-19 vaccine. She added that she was particularly disappointed in health care workers who do not support the science behind the vaccine.

“I thought that they had more insight and they had their scientific education to stand on,” she said. “Science has told us already that 99% of the people that are sick right now are people that are not vaccinated.”

Lynda Tyler, a former member of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors, didn’t know about the protest until she arrived at the hospital for an appointment. She joined the counter protesters in solidarity.

Tyler said her husband is currently a patient at the hospital and the thought of an unvaccinated worker caring for him is upsetting.

“They don’t want to take the vaccine, but they want to care for him,” Tyler said. “It’s tragic.”

Valley Health spokesperson Carol Weare said the health care system has worked hard to hear concerns and share information with staff who have been hesitant about getting the vaccine. This includes conversations held for months, with more than 50 virtual and in-person town halls with physician leaders, Weare said.

Valley Health System President and CEO Mark Nantz said in a statement that Valley Health officials continue to meet with team members to explain the vaccine requirement and discuss the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.

“We respect the right of those who choose to peacefully express their feelings regarding our decision to require vaccination for the safety of our patients,” Nantz said. “We want to be the safest place in the country to receive health care and we take very seriously our obligation to provide an optimal healing environment for our patients.”

Nantz added that Valley Health’s vaccination requirement aligns with recommendations from the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Hospital Association and more than 50 other organizations.

Last Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted that more than 98% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths since January in the commonwealth have been among unvaccinated Virginians.

With the highly contagious delta variant causing a spike in COVID cases, the Centers for Disease Control is recommending that people wear face masks in public indoor spaces, no matter their vaccination status, if they are in an area with “substantial” or “high” coronavirus transmission rates.

As of Monday, Frederick and Clarke counties have a substantial COVID-19 transmission rate, while Winchester’s is moderate, according to the CDC.

— Contact Anna Merod at amerod@winchesterstar.com

(36) comments

Bubba Smith

All because of a boogie man. This is all a scamdemic. Shame on any company, government or whomever to violate the god given rights of American citizens. I hope they all get sued. There is nothing to fear people. Where is the covid virus? Where is the test? Where is the variant test? Why did the flu go away. How many need to die from these dangerous drugs? https://www.openvaers.com/covid-data/mortality

TheOneAndOnlyNuri

🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

Chris 22602

Also: the Supreme Court has already ruled that local and state governments can mandate vaccines. https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/on-this-day-the-supreme-court-rules-on-vaccines-and-public-health

Mr Incredible

Liberals luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuv them some mandates. See New York City, where now you're gonna have to SHOW ZE PAH PAHS to get into restaurants and grocery stores

TheOneAndOnlyNuri

I bet you also opposed Sheriff Joe Arpaio demanding papers, huh?

What a hypocritical coward.,,

Mr Incredible

From illegals? No problem at all

Doc Samson

"What a hypocritical coward.,,"

Um, you really don't understand the difference between laws and mandates, do you... goober?

As for the "coward" label, why do you only seem to throw that out when you can't keep up intellectually with a post?

Bubba Smith

[thumbup]

Mr Incredible

"Science". How many times has that been wrong this past year and a half? And please don't lay out there that science "learned" something. Remember when the CDC said that covid could live on surfaces for days and perhaps weeks?

Goooood times. Somehow covid had mysteriously acquired the ability to do what no other virus could do, and everyone was wiping down everything, if they could find wipes.

And then, a couple of months later, the CDC said weeeeeeeell, no, it can't really live that long on surfaces.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of biology could have told you that, but the CDC (who should have known better) somehow thought differently.

And then there's the "science" that tells liberals that there are 57 genders. But that's for another day..........................

TheOneAndOnlyNuri

Hush, coward. We all know your boldness is due to your anonymity. What courage...

Mr Incredible

Nothing "bold" about the truth. You only replied because it was hit home and pointed out that the CDC, an institution that used to have a decent reputation, wasn't "following the science" themselves. Of course, I would expect nothing else from the local court jester.

Bubba Smith

I completely agree with you. These people should wake up. Fauci patented the covid virus 20 years ago. It's public record. This was intentional and planned a long time ago. These mRNA drugs are not vaccines by definition. Good information about all the patents for all of these things. https://rumble.com/vjpy07-dr.-david-martin-not-novel-no-pandemic-no-variants...campaign-of-coercion-a.html

Bubba Smith

I love how "following the science" is now "because we said so" by the Biden administration. When asked how they know people have the delta variant. Well, because after all, there isn't a test for the variants let alone covid. A PCR test for the flu? Really. C'mon man!

Doc Samson

@Bubba - Gosh and golly! It's almost like the Prog-Left exhibits mindless, cult-like behavior that they ascribe to Trump supporters! [lol] [rolleyes]

Remember, it's not nice to question Big Gov't or Big Pharm!

Chris 22602

Blaine Dunn’s wife is supporting this anti-vaccine nonsense! Time to vote him out. I hope these people are all fired this week. Right to work state thanks to republicans, now it’s a chance for them to see how that law affects them. They can’t unionize and Valley health can fire them without cause. Thanks GOP!

Bubba Smith

Same attitude killed 6 million jews.

TheOneAndOnlyNuri

Yikes....

Don Specht

"But she said she’s also willing to lose her job if she has no choice other than to be vaccinated."

When I go into any medical facility I want to believe that every professional employed there is vaccinated. Get vaxxed. Putting your personal liberty on the line against the greater good is not a stance I would expect any health care worker to take.

Spock Here

It was interesting to read a piece the other day that Vlad is behind this latest round of vaccine attacks. It comes down to maybe a dozen Russian trolls who've spread this to the willing listeners. Yes, he still wants to sow chaos in the US and we, of course, let him.

SJFRAME

Vaccinate!!! Vaccinate!!!! Vaccinate!!!! Be a good American and love your family, your neighbors, your community, and your Country.

Lisannw1

Love my family with ALL MY HEART, had my father in the very first round of vaccinations (February) he died of COVID-19 May 29, 2021!! Sorry do NOT share your enthusiasm over this vaccine!! Also I am a nurse of 30yrs, please educate yourself as to the newest studies………very disheartening.

Doc Samson

@Lisannw1 - Thank you for being willing to share your concerns as a medical professional. Unfortunately, you'll likely be subject to ridicule and scorn here from our MSM fueled Prog-Fascists.

"She said she would be willing to get tested for the virus on a regular basis and continue to wear the needed personal protective equipment" Seems like a good compromise to me! Too bad the outrage mob is never satisfied with anything less than 100% compliance to their demands...

Amusing to think about all the "science" that has been considered "settled" throughout history and how often that "science" is completely, laughably wrong. Today's Leftists are the new age Catholic church and anyone they deem guilty of heresy or of questioning their Big Gov't god? Ignore all the flip-flops, the backtracking, the conflicting info because they'll believe whatever they are told and I think we can see where their self righteous and infallible outrage is heading...

Don Specht

An answer to your anti-science note of discord ...

Science is not truth. Science is finding the truth. When science changes its opinion, it didn't lie to you. It learned more.

Doc Samson

"Science is finding the truth"

And if you believe that, you're delusional. That is PART of "science" but are you saying that there is no bias, no politics, no inherent prejudice in Science? [lol]

C'mon, man, even ol' Cornpop knows better than that. My point, which Prog-Leftists just seem incapable of grasping, is that if you think you "have the answer" and will brook no doubters or evidence to the contrary? Well, that ain't "science", my friend. That is taking an unchangeable, inflexible, "holier than thou" position, is it not? Again, very much like the Catholic church of old, where "heresy" was punished by Those Who Shall Not Be Questioned.

As an "independent", I'd think you'd get that... or not. [rolleyes]

TheOneAndOnlyNuri

What were your father's underlying conditions? Is his situation indicative of COVID vaccination?

Bubba Smith

That is very sad and I'm sorry to hear that. My mother got the experimental drug shots. She's old and it made her feel safe because they promised her she could go back to normal life. They lied. Now she is living in fear again because of the fake delta variant and is wondering why she got the "vaccine" since it doesn't work. Oh well, it was her choice. It's not a vaccine. There isn't and never has been a vaccine for coronaviruses.

Bubba Smith

You're hysterical. Vaccinate for what? I don't take a flu shot, why would I take a fake vaccine that has killed over 11,000 people? That's crazy.

TheOneAndOnlyNuri

🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

Catherine Giovannoni

Patriotic Americans are tired of these conspiracy theorist crazies. Get your shot.

Alsochristie

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Bubba Smith

Patriotic Americans protest infringing on God given rights. Liberals just do as ordered by an authoritarian, tyrannical regime. Move to China.

TheOneAndOnlyNuri

🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

TonyR

"..She also thinks efforts to promote the vaccine is “propaganda” by the U.S. government and that the long-term effects of the vaccine are unknown...."

This is utter twaddle. We have had 50 years of basic science and the study of infectious disease allow the fast creation of multiple vaccines for Covid. The push by government and industry to vaccinate is to save lives. The anti-vaxx and GOP co-opting of the "MY Body - My Choice" is the most hypocritical act of the century. Get the vaccine or work elsewhere. It is your choice.

Catherine Giovannoni

[thumbup]

Bubba Smith

Nothing says anti science more than your post.

TheOneAndOnlyNuri

😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂

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