Making their voices heard: Protesters march against Aspirus vaccination measures
LAURIUM — Protesters marched around Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital in Laurium Friday afternoon in opposition to a new requirement that all Aspirus employees be vaccinated or undergo periodic COVID-19 testing.
Crowd estimates for the protest at its peak ranged from 150 to 200. About 30 still remained holding signs at about 1:30 p.m.
Starting Monday, Aspirus Keweenaw employees will be required to get the vaccine or undertake three other activities: sign a formal waiver due to religious or medical reasons, complete an educational class on the vaccine and perform surveillance testing.
“I came out here today to stand with the nurses and that they would have freedom of choice as to what they do with their bodies,” said Lynn Mortberg, who lives in the Calumet area. “They should have the freedom not to take the jab if they’re not interested. They should have the freedom not to wear masks if it’s not necessary.”
Ashley Bekkala of Calumet carried a sign saying “No body autonomy or no job = no freedom.” She considered the Aspirus policy, as well as incentive programs like lotteries for the newly vaccinated, as unjust coercion. She said she would quit her job before taking the vaccine, citing natural immunity from having had COVID.
“I’m not anti-vaccination, I just want the choice,” she said. “Because what’s to stop them from making another regulation on us and I can’t choose what’s going in my body? That’s kind of the last straw.”
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in August of people in Kentucky with previous COVID-19 infections showed those who had stayed unvaccinated were twice as likely to be infected again.
Bekkala said Friday’s protest included singing songs such as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and marching around the outside of the hospital. In at least one instance, someone working at the hospital had flipped them off, she said.
In a statement, Aspirus said it was trying to lead by example in encouraging the community to get vaccinated. It pointed to the prevalence of the more contagious Delta variant and rising case rates locally. After dipping to 64 weekly cases per 100,000 as of Sept. 7, Houghton County had risen to 173 as of Wednesday, putting it back in the CDC’s high transmission category.
“Americans enjoy the right to their own opinion, and some people continue to have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines,” Aspirus said. “But the care team at Aspirus is held to a higher standard because we are entrusted with the health of the communities we serve. Throughout this unpredictable pandemic, we have implemented rigorous safety precautions aligned with CDC guidelines. We will continue to do whatever is right to advance our mission of healing people, promoting health, and strengthening communities.”