Around a dozen protestors stood in front of the Edinburgh Road entrance to the St. Joseph’s Health Centre on Saturday over a labour issue. The issue? The long-term care home’s vaccine mandate. Several members of the protest identified themselves as personal support workers now let go from St. Joe’s because they refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“On Sunday, I worked a 12-hour overtime shift taking care of patients. I was fine. I get swabbed. I’m not sick. And the next day I wasn’t allowed to be on the property,” explained “Sally Smith” who didn’t want to give Guelph Politico her real name.
“St. Joe’s just literally said ‘Nope,’ without any explanation or anything like that, and unfortunately right now, we’re actually not fired. We are on unpaid leave,” Smith added. “So now I can’t collect E.I., I can’t collect anything for my family. I have a job, I guess technically, I’m just not allowed to go into the building.”
According to Smith she’s been a PSW at St. Joe’s for 11 years. A couple of the other nearly dozen protestors also said they were PSWs, many of them also claimed to work at St. Joe’s. Smith said that there were 20 staff members from St. Joe’s who were in the same boat as her, some refusing a COVID-19 vaccine due to reasons such as allergies or religious objections.
There have been no official numbers release from St. Joe’s about how many staff members have refused to get vaccinated, but earlier this month, the Ministry of Long-Term Care said that 97.5 per cent of the staff, volunteers and student trainees working at long term care homes in the province had gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Anti-vax? No. Like some of the protestors that marched downtown last weekend, the St. Joe’s protestors bristle at the idea of being called “anti-vaxxers” or “vaccine hesitant.” They trust vaccines, they just don’t trust the COVID-19 vaccines.
“When I got hired there, we do get certain vaccines, we get certain boosters. There are certain things required in my employee contract, and I agreed to that when I got hired,” Smith explained. “Now, 11 years down the road, you’re telling me that you’re going to add another shot? It’s crazy, it’s like telling me I have to get a hysterectomy tomorrow. It’s not your decision, it’s mine and you can’t just change that.”
The protestors were phrasing their demonstration as a labour dispute. “I don’t deserve to be unemployed, I haven’t done anything wrong,” Smith said directing her frustration at St. Joe’s president David Wormald. Two security guards were visible in front of the building from the street, but they never made any attempt to interfere with the demonstration.
Smith added that she’s concerned about her patients, especially the ones with dementia who don’t adapt well to change. She went to say that she’s also worried because experienced PSWs are being replaced with newly trained staff whose training may have been rushed. Smith added that she takes exception to the idea that her vaccination status was putting her patients at risk because she was following all COVID protocols including masking and daily COVID tests.
“If I’m sick, I don’t go to work. It’s been the rule of thumb as a healthcare workers since the beginning of time,” Smith said. “If I’m sick, I’m not bringing it into your mom, because I don’t want her to pass away. I love her. I hold her hand at night. I put her to bed. So of course I’m not going to do that.”
So what are the concerns? One protestor has the usual concern about the rate of speed by which the vaccine was developed. She also mentioned how animals were killed in the course of developing the vaccines, a claim that was fact checked by Reuters this past June and determined to be false.
Another woman took out her phone and opened a website called “OpenVAERS” and pointed to a graph that showed 14,000 cases of myocarditis in young people stemming from the mRNA COVID vaccines. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart, and common symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath.
Now, it’s true that the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC) have been monitoring cases of myocarditis as well as cases of pericarditis. They note on their website that these instances are as a result of “the body’s immune system causing inflammation in response to an infection or some other trigger.” The severity of cases vary, but most patients show immediate improvement after receiving medical care.
The website for the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is frequently used by people with doubts about the COVID-19 vaccinations to point out their supposedly hidden dangers, but the CDC itself notes that VAERS data cannot be used on its own to find out if a particular vaccine is behind an adverse event, or how common that event is. A recent article on The Conservation notes that each VAERS report (representing one incident) usually involves three adverse events, the most common of which are rashes, fever, swelling, pain and headaches.
On top of that, the protestor was not using the VAERS site itself, but “OpenVAERS”, which claims to use data from the VAERS site but presents information gathered by VAERS in an easier to read format. However, a report from VICE News in August linked “OpenVAERS” to Liz Willner, a 55-year-old web designer who lives in a wealthy Oakland, CA neighbourhood, and who’s expressed vaccine hesitant sentiments since at least a year prior to the pandemic.
According to VICE, “OpenVAERS has become one of the most powerful tools in the anti-vaxxer community. For example, the site on Thursday declared that over 12,000 people had died as a result of taking a COVID-19 vaccine. While that many deaths may have been reported to VAERS, the figure is completely unverified and proves no connection between the vaccine and the subsequent fatalities.”
As these things usually go, the discussion moved from cover-ups of vaccine data, to allegations about governments using the pandemic to manipulate the population and strip them of their rights. “Follow the money,” the phrase attributed to Bob Woodward’s Deep Throat contact in the movie version of All the President’s Men, was also also mentioned because a couple of the protestors believed that the vaccine is a get-rich scheme perpetuated by the government colluding with pharmaceutical companies.
“If you did a little research and just literally start with the money, you will get to the answer very easily, which is that this is a profitable situation. The big corporations are doing better now,” Smith said. “There is a profit [in vaccination], look at the profit margins from Pfizer and Moderna and you will see how much money they made.”