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INDIANAPOLIS — Starting September 1, IU Health employees are required to be fully vaccinated from COVID-19 or face termination. That’s unless they’re approved for a deferral or exemption.

Shortly after employees received the email on June 1, IU Health employee Traci Staley started Indiana Against the Mandate on Facebook. The group now has more than 4,000 members.

“In our group, there are people who are not getting the vaccine for medical or religious reasons,” said Staley. “There are people who want to wait and make that decision for themselves when there’s more data, and then we have people that are vaccinated already, but are just standing in solidarity with us that we should be able to have the same rights to that choice.”

With long-term studies still happening, uncertainty about vaccine side effects and pending FDA approvals, Staley says getting the COVID vaccine should be a personal choice and not forced by employers.

“They’re telling us, ‘Well, you do have a choice,’ but what kind of choice is it?” Staley asked.

“We’re being threatened and backed into a corner and told take this vaccine that you don’t believe in, or agree with, that you don’t feel is safe or lose your livelihood,” she said.

In a statement to FOX59, IU Health said employees have the option to apply for a deferral or exemption for medical or religious reasons.

Even with the choice to opt out, Staley says she already knows of several people who were already denied, and it’s not an easy process.

“The power is still in IU Health’s hands,” she said. “It’s still not our choice, and even with exemptions, there’s still going to be medical discrimination and medical segregation because even if your exemption gets approved, you’re going to be required to wear a mask and you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb.”

As part of their response to IU Health’s mandate, Staley and others organized the Fight The Mandate Protest, which is scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m.

The event is meant to be a peaceful protest, aimed to offer education and support in having the right to choose to get vaccinated. Saturday will feature a variety of speakers, including State Representatives Jim Lucas and John Jacob.

“This is just the first battle,” said Staley. “I feel like once we allow it to happen with IU, it’s just going to continue. I know I’ve heard from people, who have direct contact with leadership at other hospitals and places, and they’re watching our protest very closely before they make their decision.”

Below is the full statement issued to FOX59 from IU Health Chief Medical Executive, David Ingram, MD:

Vaccinating team members is a safe and effective way to protect patients and help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in facilities and in the community. All COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. have been shown to be safe and highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death from COVID-19.

Requiring vaccinations for healthcare employees is not new or unprecedented. IU Health has required the flu vaccine since 2012, along with several other vaccines as a condition of employment.

IU Health will allow team members to apply for a deferral or exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine based on medical or religious reasons. Applications will be reviewed and granted on an individual basis.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have submitted their COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial study results for full FDA approval.