COVID-19: Baptist Health vaccine mandate reaches deadline as special session begins in Tallahassee

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Time’s up for Baptist Health employees in Jacksonville.

Back in early August the hospital system announced all employees will be required to receive one of three COVID-19 vaccines no later than Nov. 15.

Baptist Health will grant exemptions for medical contraindications and religious beliefs.

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We received this statement from Baptist Health about the deadline:

“We’re extremely proud that more than 95% of our team members have met the requirement for COVID-19 vaccination or exemption. Team members who did not meet the requirement by Nov. 15 have a window of 30 days to get the vaccine or receive a medical or religious exemption. Though this small percentage of team members will not be scheduled to work during this time, their employment status will remain unchanged to give team members a final opportunity to meet the requirement.”

Now that the deadline is finally here, a new conversation is starting in Tallahassee.

Gov. DeSantis called a special legislative session this week to take a stand against COVID-19-related mandates. He said he wants to protect Floridians whose employment is threatened by such mandates.

The proposed bills would prohibit employers from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine without giving staff five opt-out options. Those include exemptions for pregnancies, religious reasons, and immunity based on prior infection. You can also opt-out by undergoing periodic testing or wearing PPE.

The legislation is met by some local representatives with open arms.

“I support the bills and believe that this is a good step we should take to protect Floridians and offer the protection there for them and their families,” District 12 Rep. Clay Yarborough (R) said.

While others want to focus on incentivizing vaccines.

“I think that we are valuing the fear of vaccines over the fear of the deadly virus that happened last year. I think that’s what the legislature is doing. That’s what the governor is doing,” District 14 Rep. Angie Nixon (D) said.

Rep. Yarborough also said the bill isn’t banning mandates, but if a business wants to impose one it must allow for exemptions.

“If someone chooses to get it, that should be their choice. It shouldn’t be forced upon them,” Yarborough said.

DeSantis is also promoting fines of up to $50,000 against businesses that fire staff for refusing to get vaccinated.

Rep. Nixon believes a fine as large as $10,000 can cripple a business.

“We should be supporting the fact that businesses want to keep their employees, they want to keep their customers safe. We shouldn’t be trying to fine them,” Nixon said.

Fines would apply to businesses like Baptist Health.

Outside of the hospital, the vaccine mandate spurs mixed emotions from the public as well.

“It’s up to the person, not who their employer is or not, (or) who the government is in particular,” said one local resident.

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“It makes me feel much more comfortable when I know people are vaccinated that are around me,” said another.

DeSantis’ office said the special session will go no later than Nov. 19.

Florida is one of more than 20 states taking the Biden administration to court over its private employer vaccine mandate.