A nurse named Jennifer Bridges and 116 other healthcare workers had sued their employer, Houston Methodist Hospital, for requiring them to get the shot, saying it treated them like “guinea pigs” in a human experiment. On Saturday, US District Judge Lynn Hughes flatly rejected that argument.
“Bridges dedicates the bulk of her pleadings to arguing that the currently available Covid-19 vaccines are experimental and dangerous,” the judge wrote. “This claim is false, and it is also irrelevant.”
The ruling came as a relief to Houston Methodist, where tensions over the vaccinations had reached a boiling point. Although tens of thousands of the hospital’s employees had complied with the requirement, 178 had refused. Last week, the hospital suspended those workers without pay, and threatened to eventually fire them – something the lawsuit argued would be “wrongful termination”.
Judge Hughes made it clear he doesn’t see it that way. Texas state law, he explained, only protects workers from being fired “for refusing to commit an act carrying criminal penalties” – something that doesn’t apply in this case.
“Receiving a Covid-19 vaccination is not an illegal act, and it carries no criminal penalties,” the judge wrote. “She is refusing to accept inoculation that, in the hospital’s judgment, will make it safer for their workers and the patients in Methodist’s care.”
The hospital welcomed the news.
“We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation,” Houston Methodist’s president, Dr Marc Boom, said in a statement.
The vaccine-refusing employees, however, vowed to keep fighting.
“This is just one battle in a larger war to protect the rights of employees to be free from being forced to participate in a vaccine trial as a condition for employment,” Jared Woodfill, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
It was not clear whether Mr Woodfill planned to appeal.
All three of the Covid-19 vaccines being used in the United States have proven extremely safe and effective in clinical trials. The Food and Drug Administration has granted them emergency authorization, rather than formally approving them, only because the approval process could have delayed the vaccines’ use as Americans continued to die of the virus.
In a letter to his staff, Dr Boom thanked the Houston Methodist employees who did get vaccinated.
“You did the right thing,” the president wrote. “You protected our patients, your colleagues, your families, and our community. The science proves that the vaccines are not only safe, but necessary if we are going to turn the corner against Covid-19.”