Protest against vaccine mandates sees large turnout in Vacaville

In light of the state’s mandate for employees of certain sectors — including health care — to get vaccinated against COVID-19, some health care staff as well as those generally opposed to the mandate have rallied in front of hospitals throughout California over the last few weeks.

On Thursday, one such protest was held in front of Kaiser Permanente’s Vacaville campus, where a large group gathered to demand that vaccines be a choice among individuals, not a requirement.

The protesters lined the sidewalks along Vaca Valley Parkway directly in front of the hospital, and consisted of participants young and old as well as a mix of health care employees and those who opposed mandatory vaccines. The rallies received honks of approval from passersby.

Health care employee Amber Robitaille said the rally was not against the vaccines but rather the mandates for them.

“Everybody has the right to choose what they do with their own body, and so that’s what everyone’s out here doing,” she said.

Holding signs with anti-vaccine mandate slogans people participate in the “Stop The Mandate” rally Thursday in front of Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center.(Joel Rosenbaum — The Reporter)

In particular, the protest stemmed from an Aug. 5 order issued by California Public Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon requiring health care workers to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30, unless they receive written exemptions for qualifying medical conditions or religious beliefs. In these cases, workers must submit to COVID-19 testing twice a week and wear a surgical mask or higher level respirator approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

Aragon wrote that the order was issued as a result of the growing rates of the delta variant, which is more transmissible, and unvaccinated people being at greater risk of contracting and spreading the virus. He highlighted hospitals and other health care facilities as being areas that are particularly high risk.

“There is frequent exposure to staff and highly vulnerable patients, including elderly, chronically ill, critically ill, medically fragile, and disabled patients,” he wrote. “In many of these settings, the patients are at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease due to underlying health conditions, advanced age, or both.”

Moreover, Aragon’s order said vaccines were “the most effective means of preventing infection with the COVID-19 virus, and subsequent transmission and outbreaks.”

Still, a number of people have been hesitant to get vaccinated, often believing it should be a matter of personal choice. That was on display at Thursday’s rally, where protesters carried signs with such slogans as “Freedom, Not Force,” “Protect Medical Freedom,” and “I Call the Shot, Not You.”

Although many were simply promoting personal choice, others expressed concerns about the vaccines in general. One sign read, “I am Not a Lab Rat.” Another accused Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and business magnate Bill Gates of being “murderers.” Both Fauci and Gates have been the subject of several conspiracies related to the vaccines.

Rebecca Cox of Vacaville attended with her infant son and was rallying on his behalf.

Gathered along Vaca Valley Parkway, anti-vaccine mandate supporters flash their signs at passing vehicles during Thursday’s demonstration in Vacaville.(Joel Rosenbaum — The Reporter)

“I’m standing up for freedom for my son,” she said. “He’s a baby, he can’t speak yet, he can’t use his voice to exercise his rights, so I’m standing for me. I’m standing for all of my family and my children to come, my grandchildren to come.”

Cox has concerns about the vaccines, particularly the fact that they were created and authorized for emergency use in less than a year.

“I believe my body, my choice,” she said.

However, Cox said she does not have anything against those who have gotten vaccinated and is not opposed to other types of vaccines.

Mike LaRocco of Benicia said he did not support mandatory vaccinations and takes a biblical world view.

“I believe in religious freedom, freedom of choice,” he said. “The First Amendment guarantees me religious freedom.”

LaRocco said he does not trust the COVID-19 vaccines, but he is not opposed to weekly testing.

“If that’s what’s required of me to accommodate my belief,” he said.

Robitaille said the issue has created a lot of division.

“It’s heartbreaking what’s going on,” she said. “For those that work in health care, 18 months ago, we were able to go to work and put our lives at risk and our families’ safety at risk by being (potentially) exposed to an unknown pathogen. Now we’re being told you don’t want somebody that doesn’t have the vaccine to care for you, but 18 months ago it didn’t matter. I think it’s really heartbreaking for those in health care that really feel compassion and strive to care for people.”

Cindra Rayburn, a Fairfield resident with friends in the health care industry, said she participated in the rally to remind others they have choices.

“We all still have choices what to do with our bodies (and) our children’s bodies,” she said. “I’m heartbroken that…health care is telling (nurses and doctors), ‘You have no choice. You want this job? You have no choice but to do what we tell you.’”

Rayburn held a sign that read “Last Year: Heroes. This Year: Criminals” to showcase how she felt health care workers were being treated in the early stages of the pandemic compared to how they have been treated in the wake of the state order.

“My heart goes out to these caregivers,” she said.

In a statement, Kaiser Permanente officials wrote that it respects everyone’s right to peacefully protest but assured the vaccines were safe.

“We strongly believe in the science and evidence supporting COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy,” officials wrote. “Kaiser Permanente made the decision to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for employees and physicians because we know that a fully vaccinated workforce is the most effective path to protecting our people, our patients, and the communities we serve.”

“As the country’s largest integrated care delivery system, we feel it is our responsibility to do everything we can to help end this pandemic, particularly in light of the dramatic increase in cases from the highly infectious and contagious Delta variant. Widespread vaccination is our best hope of eradicating the virus and helping communities stay safe.”

Other similar rallies have been held in Roseville, Redding and at the state Capitol in Sacramento.

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