FreePA petition

A woman collects signatures at Central Market in Lancaster on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, for a petition opposing a new Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health policy requiring staff vaccinations for COVID-19.

An effort by Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health employees to roll back a mandate requiring them to get a COVID-19 vaccine is getting support from a petition drive.

It’s unclear how much support the petition, circulated online and in person, has garnered.

Grassroots organizers behind this effort — Pennsylvania Informed Consent Advocates and Free PA — did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment. Outreach from these groups has primarily been through Facebook.

Eric Winter, an attorney advising LGH employees, said he understood “thousands” had signed the petition.

“We’re of the belief that individuals should be able to choose for themselves whether or not to get the vaccine, not their employer,” Winter, a Berks County attorney, told LNP | LancasterOnline.

LGH defended its policy Tuesday.

“This vaccination policy — which requires employees to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 1 — is an important way to protect our patients, staff, and the communities we serve,” John Lines, a hospital spokesman, said in an email. “To address the remaining employees with questions, we will continue offering information about vaccine safety and efficacy and this policy, as well as the opportunity to apply for religious and medical exemptions.”

Lines declined to respond to any LNP | LancasterOnline questions.

Camping chairs to protest

The organizing effort emerged after LGH CEO John J. Herman announced last month that starting Sept. 1 employees will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

A week later, organizers held an event in the ballroom at the Heritage Hotel in Lancaster, requesting via Facebook that attendees bring camping chairs in anticipation it would draw more than 200 people. Attendees dutifully complied and the line inside snaked through the hotel.

Organizers instructed attendees not to speak to the media.

Under the new hospital policy, employees can seek a medical or religious exemption, similar to the health system’s flu vaccine policy. But commenters on the groups’ Facebook pages have complained the exemptions require annual renewal.

While hospitals require the flu vaccine, most have not mandated a COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines have been administered under emergency FDA approval. (Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking the full approval for its COVID-19 vaccine from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.)

Few employers are taking LGH’s tack.

A February survey by one of the largest management law firms in the U.S. found fewer than 10% of the more than 700 employers surveyed were considering a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees.

UPMC and WellSpan Health do not have plans to require staff vaccinations, hospital officials said Tuesday.

‘The final say’

Roughly two-thirds of LGH staff are vaccinated.

It’s unclear how many hospital employees will refuse to be vaccinated nor how many have requested an exemption.

The holdouts, Herman has said, are largely those between 20 and 40 year of age. Among the concerns are a perceived rush-to-market, fertility anxieties and long-term side effects.

Winter, who represented restaurateurs sued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health for defying the Wolf administration’s holiday ban on indoor dining, said organizers will submit its petition to management next week.

On Tuesday, shoppers who parked near C’est La Vie and the Central Market in Lancaster, were greeted by a woman gathering petition signatures. The woman, who declined to provide her name, said she had collected a couple pages of signatures filled out by passersby.

Organizers are also collecting online signatures.

With businesses grappling with whether to mandate employee vaccination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said on May 28 that U.S. companies could, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Winter was quick to point out that the EEOC guidance is just that, guidance.

“They do not get the final say in the matter,” Winter said.

The EEOC guidance could soon be tested in court.

Employees in New Mexico, California and – most recently – Texas have filed lawsuits over COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

In Texas, more than 100 employees at Houston Methodist Hospital filed a suit against their employer for a vaccine mandate that went into effect on June 7. Several dozen employees staged a walked out on Monday, according to media reports.

Some governors — Florida’s among them — have banned certain vaccine requirements.

Pennsylvania lawmakers haven’t done so yet, although Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who represents Adams, Franklin and York counties, introduced a bill in March that would prohibit mandatory vaccination. Mastriano has said former President Donald Trump has asked him to run for Pennsylvania governor and Mastriano is among a group of Republican lawmakers who have called for an audit of Pennsylvania’s presidential election results.

LNP | LancasterOnline Intern Ashley Stalnecker contributed to this report.

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