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Texas doctors say COVID-19 vaccine mandates are needed, call on Gov. Abbott to retract ban

Doctors with the Committee to Protect Health Care said the ban is political. One even said businesses should pay the fine instead of complying with the order.

TEXAS, USA — Three Texas doctors with the Committee to Protect Health Care spoke out against Governor Greg Abbott's Executive Order 40, which bans COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Friday morning. Abbott released the order on Monday. 

Dr. Audrey Nath, a neurologist working in Houston, joined with Dallas internist Dr. Keith Marton and Dr. Joanna Schwartz, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist in Austin, for a Zoom press conference criticizing the order and calling for vaccine mandates to continue.

Nath said more Texans will be in danger if companies and hospitals cannot use vaccine mandates to protect themselves.

"Abbott's ban on vaccine mandates won't help us save those lives," Nath said. "Abbott's executive order must be seen for what it is. A politically driven, anti-vaccine policy, that threatens to make people more sick from COVID-19...widespread vaccinations are the best way to protect people against COVID-19."

The physicians argued that mandates were especially needed in Texas hospitals where a staff member's choice to not get vaccinated could lead to at-risk patients being harmed as a result.

"Governor Abbott's order means a cancer patients could be exposed to COVID-19 from an unvaccinated employee. A child with a chronic medical condition could be at risk from an unvaccinated nurse caring for her. A grandma in assisted living could get sick from an unvaccinated worker," Schwartz said.

Dr. Schwartz also argued vaccines requirements are nothing new in the healthcare field, and should not be seen as unusual for political reasons. 

"Vaccine requirements are nothing new to healthcare workers. Since medical school, at every stage of my career, and at every new hospital I've worked at, I've had to be vaccinated against tetanus, hepatitis b, and chicken pox and show proof of a negative test for tuberculosis," Schwartz said.

The doctors also addressed several common arguments against the mandates.

Some hospitals have seen nurses quit after mandating vaccines. Local hospital systems such as Baylor Scott and White and Ascension Providence have required vaccinations since the beginning of October. 6 News asked the doctors how they would respond to the issue.

"It's unfortunate. Obviously we would like to keep all of our nurses since there is a nursing shortage right now. But the principle of protecting patient safety is paramount," Schwartz said. "I think that needs to come before other considerations."

Schwartz said she believed most individuals who didn't want to take the vaccine did so because they had incorrect information about the vaccine.

Abbott's GA-40 still allows a person to get the vaccine by choice. Reporters asked the doctors were asked why a policy focused on personal choice was dangerous.

"A lot of people are fueled by misinformation that's available on the internet and on social media," Schwartz said. "It should be up to an individual institution to decide the policies for their employees. Hospitals and other health care facilities should absolutely have the right to require vaccinations."

Reporters also asked if COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy would make sense given that the vaccine was new, and didn't completely prevent the virus. Other vaccines that may be required of health care professionals are much older, and some lawmakers argue they shouldn't be compared.

"This vaccine hasn't been around very long but the science underlying the vaccine began to be developed over 20 years ago," Dr. Marton said. "We know by inducing immunity to a pathogen, we reduce the chance of a person becoming infected and becoming ill from the infection... the testing that went into testing the effectiveness of this vaccine included hundreds of thousands of people around the world."

The governor's executive order enforces the vaccine mandate ban with the treat of the fine. The order states, "the maximum fine allowed under Section 418.173 of the Texas Government Code and the State’ s emergency management plan shall apply to any 'failure to comply with' this executive order. Confinement in jail is not an available penalty for violating this executive order."

However, section 418.173 of the Texas Government Code states the fine cannot exceed $1,000. 6 News asked the doctors if a vaccine mandate was worth paying such a fine.

"From an ethical perspective for patient care, absolutely," Nath said. "Sometimes what we do that is is ethically right may be a little different from what the law states is best for our patients. Crowdsourcing the $1,000 dollars, it could be raised very quickly."

Reporters also asked the doctors if people who were already infected with COVID-19, and survived the infection, could argue they no longer needed the vaccine.

"We know that over time the antibody levels from both vaccination and natural infection begin to decline and wane," Marton said. "With that, we presume, that their in an increased susceptibility to reinfection. Even if someone was naturally infected, over time they will need a booster to their immune system. That would come in the form of a booster shot or vaccination."

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