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By Tommy Gagliano

In March and April of 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a ritual began in New York City. Every night at 7 p.m., people would clap, cheer, and bang pots and pans together to salute the healthcare workers battling the virus on the front lines. Less than two years later, many of those same healthcare workers are facing termination because of their personal medical decisions, and popular opinion seems to be in favor of it. Is this how we treat the people we emphatically called “heroes” just a few short months ago?

Before stepping down as governor of New York amid scandals relating to sexual harassment and nursing home deaths, Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide mandate that all healthcare workers must be at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 27th. The deadline has now arrived, and employees of hospitals and other healthcare facilities across the state—the “heroes” that risked their own safety to help others when there was no vaccine and limited knowledge about treatment—have been fired or suspended without pay. It is unknown exactly how many of the thousands of unvaccinated healthcare workers in New York are now unemployed because of the mandate, but facilities such as Northwell Health and Erie County Medical Center have confirmed that they have terminated the employment of their unvaccinated workers.

As anyone should have been able to anticipate, the mass firing of experienced and qualified healthcare workers has caused staffing shortages across the state. Governor Kathy Hochul’s solution was not to allow unvaccinated employees to continue to do their jobs, but rather to lessen the restrictions and barriers to working in the field. Recent medical school graduates that do not yet have a license are now permitted to practice medicine in New York State, as well as individuals that are licensed in other states, but not in New York. In other words, Hochul and Cuomo forced qualified healthcare workers out, creating a staffing shortage, then attempted to fix the shortage by allowing less-qualified workers to replace the qualified ones that they forced out. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be operated on by an unvaccinated surgeon with experience and all of the necessary licenses and qualifications than a vaccinated person that was unable to practice that type of medicine in the state prior to Hochul’s executive order.

And then there are those who were coerced into injecting something into their body that they did not feel comfortable with. That was the entire point of the mandate, of course. “It was a choice,” I can hear you shouting, “the state didn’t force them to take it! They had the option! There is no such thing as a right to work a certain job! I am very intelligent and definitely have the moral high ground in this discussion because vaccine good!” Yes, it is true that they were not threatened at gunpoint, or with imprisonment. But they were threatened with termination, and when you take into consideration that they would have been ineligible for unemployment benefits under the mandate, it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t much of a choice at all. Most people cannot afford to lose their job, especially when the government has decided that they are no longer allowed to work in the field that they have chosen for their career. Furthermore, it’s likely that other fields will be hit with the same restrictions soon. New York City already attempted their own vaccination mandate for teachers. It’s not a stretch to say that, if New York State continues on this path, the unvaccinated may soon be unable to work at all. If we can all agree that an employer threatening to fire an employee for not sleeping with him or her is sexual abuse, then why are so many people pretending that this mandate isn’t a violation of bodily autonomy?

Look, I am not “anti-vax.” I got my Moderna shots back in April. I’ve had a plethora of arguments with my one friend that thinks that the vaccine is Bill Gates’s master plan to inject us with microchips, that the Bible says that everyone that gets the COVID-19 vaccine is going to hell, and that COVID is actually caused by 5G towers. I am not “anti-vax,” I am simply in favor of people having the right to make their own medical decisions. Whether it’s through threat of physical force, threat of imprisonment, or threat of unemployment, the government should not have the authority to force anyone to inject anything into their bodies. It’s sickening to me that they chose healthcare workers as their first targets, and appalling how quickly the public turned against their former “heroes.”

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