Raleigh, N.C. — News that UNC Health and Duke University Health System will soon require all of their physicians and staff to be vaccinated against coronavirus has created a backlash from many Triangle residents.
The two hospital systems were among several across North Carolina to announce the vaccine mandates on Thursday, saying they needed to protect patients and set an example for the rest of the state.
“As an employee, but with no patient care or contact, I shouldn’t have to take a vaccine that hasn’t been fully FDA approved, and even if I get the shot, I still have to wear a mask,” a Duke Health employee told WRAL News.
“We have been working in a COVID atmosphere for over a year with proper PPE [protective gear] and guidelines. It is our personal right to decide when and what vaccines, if any, we want, just like any other working American,” a Wake County woman said.
“I guess my body and my choice only applies when they want it to,” said a Harnett County woman who works in a hospital setting. “I do not want this vaccine, period, and to threaten my job and livelihood and threaten termination if I do not get it is immoral.”
But one Raleigh business owner who’s enforced his own vaccine mandate for several weeks said Friday that he has no regrets about the move.
Gus Gusler reopened the Players’ Retreat sports bar on Hillsborough Street a month ago, allowing only vaccinated employees and customers inside.
Gusler said he also faced plenty of backlash in the beginning, but the move hasn’t hurt business.
“We had a guy show up at 2:30 in the morning, impaired, upset because he couldn’t go inside. He threw a chair, and we had to call the police,” Gusler said.
Hundreds of others accused him online of creating “the first system of medical apartheid,” he said.
Now, however, “98 percent of what we hear is just, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,'” he said.
Between them, Duke Health and UNC Health have nearly 17,000 unvaccinated workers. WakeMed, which will likely also require staff to be vaccinated, has another 2,000 who haven’t yet gotten their shots.
Dr. Tom Owens, senior vice president of Duke Health and president of Duke University Hospital, said he hopes other businesses and health care organizations also step up and start requiring workers to be vaccinated.
“We’re doing it for a reason. We did not take this decision lightly, but we are worried about the trend we see,” Owens said.
North Carolina has seen a rapid increase in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, after months of decline.
Another 1,998 cases were reported on Friday, almost double the number from last Friday. The state’s rolling, seven-day average is up to 1,293 cases a day, which is 66 percent higher than a week ago and triple what it was just two weeks ago.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state has doubled since July 9, and the 817 patients reported Friday is the highest total since May 11.
More than 94 percent of recent cases in North Carolina are in people who haven’t been vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
“Unvaccinated North Carolinians are unnecessarily getting sick, being hospitalized and dying,” DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a statement. “Don’t wait to vaccinate, and if you haven’t gotten your shot, you need to wear a mask indoors at all times when you are in public spaces.”
Only 57 percent of people age 18 or older in North Carolina are fully vaccinated, and another 3 percent have had one dose of vaccine.
Gusler said he’s glad the hospitals are following his lead and said they won’t regret it either.
“I think they’ll find it’s not going to hurt your business,” he said.