51 employees sue Henry Ford Health System over COVID vaccine mandate

Some health care employees allege vaccine mandate is unconstitutional

Dozens of employees are suing Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) over their policy that mandates COVID-19 vaccinations, among several others, for all staff members.

More than 50 HFHS employees -- a mix of registered nurses, physicians, pharmacy technicians and other staff -- have filed a lawsuit against the health system, claiming its new policy to mandate COVID vaccines among staff is unconstitutional.

Update -- Sept. 10: Most Henry Ford Health employees got COVID-19 vaccine; lawsuit withdrawn

The health system, which employs more than 30,000 people, announced in June that all staff members, students, volunteers and contractors must receive their COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 10, 2021 -- the first health system in Michigan to issue such a mandate. HFHS already requires employees to receive vaccinations for other diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough.

Employees who are not fully vaccinated by Sept. 10 under the new policy would initially be suspended and “given until October 1, 2021, to remediate their non-compliance,” according to the lawsuit.

The 51 HFHS employees filed a lawsuit against the health system Monday -- four days before the policy deadline -- in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Michigan District. Citing unverified adverse effects of COVID-19 vaccines, the plaintiffs allege that the health system is subjecting them to danger by forcing employees to get vaccinated for the virus, allegedly infringing on their “rights of personal autonomy and bodily integrity,” and their “right to reject medical treatment.”

In June, the health system reported that about 68% of its employees have already been vaccinated for COVID-19. That number increased to about 70% in July.

The lawsuit filed Monday argues that HFHS does not have the legal authority to forcibly “inject medication into a nonconsenting person’s body.” However, the health system is not forcibly injecting COVID vaccines into staff members, but rather enforcing vaccination as a workplace requirement, which could apparently result in termination if staff does not comply.

Plaintiffs also cite several statistics from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) that claim the COVID vaccine had led to thousands of injuries and deaths. Reports submitted to the system, however, have not been verified and cannot be claimed as fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which co-sponsors the reporting system.

“While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness,” reads a disclaimer from the federal government. “The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable. In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases. This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically.”

Health care experts and authorities across the nation have maintained that coronavirus vaccines, particularly mRNA vaccines, are safe. Pfizer’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, now called Comirnaty, was granted full FDA approval in August. Amid its approval, the Food and Drug Administration cited months of real-world evidence that serious side effects from the vaccines are extremely rare.

More than 66% of Michigan residents over the age of 16 have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. More than 375 million COVID vaccine doses have been administered across the U.S., and more than 5.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide.

See more Michigan COVID data here.

In July, amid some protests over the vaccine mandate, HFHS CEO Bob Riney said the organization is committed to working with staff members who have concerns about the vaccines amid the new policy.

“We have received widespread support from our patients, team members and the community for our decision to require the COVID-19 vaccine for team members. At the same time, we acknowledge that uncertainty remains for some, and respect the rights of those members of our Henry Ford family, as well as those in our broader communities, to voice their concerns. The data and science continue to reinforce the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the mitigation of new and emerging threats like the Delta variant. As such, we know more than ever that vaccination is the absolute best way to end this pandemic and we remain confident in our decision. We are deeply committed to working alongside every team member who has concerns or questions.”

Bob Riney, President, Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer, Henry Ford Health System

In response to the lawsuit, the Henry Ford Health System says, “We remain confident that vaccination is the most powerful tool we all have against the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond that, we cannot comment on pending litigation.”

Other Michigan health systems, like Beaumont Health, Ascension and Trinity Health, are mandating COVID vaccines for employees. Experts say that businesses do have the authority to mandate vaccines for their staff members.

In December, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission determined that it is legal to require employees to get vaccinated, so long as there are exceptions for medical and religious reasons (which is included in HFHS’ new policy).

There is also a legal precedent for states to require people to get vaccinated. In 1905, Cambridge, Massachusetts fined people who refused to get the smallpox shot. A pastor sued, but the courts said a community had the right to protect itself.

COVID-19 has been surging throughout Michigan and the U.S. in recent months, being driven by the highly contagious delta variant after the country experienced a decline in virus spread earlier this summer.

More: COVID-19 surge in the US: The summer of hope ends in gloom

You can read the entire lawsuit against HFHS below.

More: Michigan COVID news

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About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.