A group of protesters stood at the street corners near Penn Square in downtown Lancaster Thursday holding signs decrying the staff COVID-19 vaccine mandate at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.
Employees have until Sept. 1 to get vaccinated or face possible termination.
Thursday’s protest was the third since LG Health announced its mandate in May. Unlike previous weekend protests that drew more than 100 people, Thursday’s event attracted about 30 adults.
“My choice is I want to wait long term to see what the adverse effects of the vaccines are,” said Richard Myers, 76, of Lancaster Township. “I haven’t ruled it out, but at this time I’ve decided not to take it.”
Myers said he turned out for the protest to support health care workers’ rights to decline vaccination.
A number of cars passing through the intersection honked in support of the group.
At least one individual, though, took issue with protesters.
Julie Allison, who has epilepsy, had heated exchanges with protesters.
“I don’t know if people understand what medicine means to those of us who actually need it,” Allison said.
The protest was supposed to correspond with an LG Health employee event at Clipper Stadium. John Lines, an LG Health spokesperson, said hospital officials canceled the event because of the alarming rise in COVID-19 infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday defined Lancaster County as having a high level of community transmission for COVID-19, with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population over seven days.
For Aug. 4-10, Lancaster had 105 new cases per 100,000 population, according to the CDC. That was the ninth-highest rate in the state.
In the past week, the positivity rate on COVID-19 tests here was 7.87%, up from 6.73% the previous seven days.
The CDC defines high rates of transmission as 100 more new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population over seven days or a positivity rate of 10% or greater.
Thursday’s event was organized by FreePA, a statewide grassroots organization that sprung up in opposition to Gov. Tom Wolf administration’s stringent COVID-19 mitigation measures that — among other things — forced the closure of indoor dining establishments.
The group gathered more than 10,000 signatures for a petition demanding the health system rescind its vaccination policy and is collecting money for legal representation.
Protesters held signs that read “Protect freedom,” “No vaxx, no mask mandates” and “I’ll call the shot not you.”
At the heart of the group’s opposition to the policy is the speed with which the vaccines were developed and safety concerns.
Since LG Health announced the mandate, more than 80 health systems in 33 states have followed with similar staff mandates. However, the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which includes Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital, is the first one in Pennsylvania to do so.
The majority of unvaccinated employees — before the mandate was announced — were between 20 and 40 years of age, according to hospital officials.
Roughly two-thirds of LGH staff were vaccinated as of mid-May. Officials have declined to say whether their education efforts have been successful in increasing the hospital’s vaccination rate.
UPMC Lititz and WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital do not yet have plans for their own staff vaccination mandate.