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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46) – With signs that read “I’m not a guinea pig” and “freedom to choose,” healthcare workers chanted and protested around Atrium Health as drivers honked in support.

“We do not doubt the impact COVID-19 has had on the lives of our friends, family, and community and we are not against vaccines,” Atrium Health registered nurse Carol Rhodes says. “We are against being coerced, intimidated and shamed into putting a substance into our bodies that have not been proven long term for a virus with greater than 99 percent chance of survival.”

Since the beginning of July, COVID cases and hospitalizations have been climbing in North Carolina.

For the first time since February, cases have topped 100,000 nationwide.

Now, Atrium and Novant are requiring all employees to get the shot but that doesn’t sit well with those who aren’t vaccinated.

“For Atrium, Novant, these other medical entities to say this is safe, this is safe – no one, I don’t care who you are – can’t say that this vaccine is safe. It has not been trialed long enough,” Rhodes said.

But not all their colleagues agree.

“This vaccine has been given to 190 million Americans. It is very safe,” Professor of Emergency Medicine at Atrium Health, David Callaway said. “It is very effective in preventing hospitalization and death, and it’s one of the most closely monitored vaccine rollouts in history.

Some say they plan to file for religious or medical exemptions. Already with a nursing shortage nationwide, they’re hoping power in numbers will help their cause.

“Could you imagine what healthcare would look like if they lost us all? They can’t afford to lose us all,” Rhodes said.

But who has the most at stake? Who will blink first?

“I will not back down from this. I’m about to lose my job,” she added. “I have an excellent record, but I’m about to lose my job because I won’t accept an experimental jab in my arm.”

Atrium Health responded to the protest with the following statement:

Atrium Health has a long history of protecting the health of our patients, our teammates and the communities we serve. With the new and more contagious variants now causing hospitalizations to rise across our region, we are requiring teammates to be vaccinated against the virus – to avoid catching or spreading it to others in our hospitals or other clinical environments. 

Most doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are drawn to their profession because they want to help and care for other people – specifically to help them get and stay well and live longer, healthier lives. The new COVID-19 vaccine requirement is designed to do exactly that, since the science shows that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and continue to save countless lives. 

We greatly value all of our teammates who have shown such dedication to our patients, their loved ones and to each other during the pandemic, and we respect the rights of those who have chosen to have their voices heard in a peaceful and civil manner. Open communication is something we embrace at Atrium Health. We encourage our teammates to share any concerns they may have directly with their leaders if they have questions about our vaccination requirement.