CORRECTION: According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), COVID-19 vaccines do not include fetal cells, as nurse Amy Schmidt stated in her comments about why she is against CHI St.Joseph’s Health mandating vaccines.

MDH states that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine used a fetal cell line in producing its vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna did not, although a fetal cell line was used in the very early phases to determine the vaccine’s effectiveness. Fetal cell lines used dated back to the 1960s and 1970s.

The article also states that the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and other faith organizations have said individuals may morally choose to get the vaccines.

Amy Schmidt also stated she has read articles that there’s an 80 percent chance of spontaneous abortion (with the vacccine), which means the baby could die, including a scholarly article.

According to information released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Aug. 11, analyzing current data from the v-safe pregnancy registry did not find an increased risk of miscarriage among nearly 2,500 pregnant women who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine before 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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According to their information, miscarriages occur in about 11 to 16 percent of pregnancies. This study found miscarriage rates after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine were around 13 percent.

Data from three safety monitoring systems did not find any safety concerns for those who were vaccinated late in pregnancy or for their babies.

They concluded that because of the severe risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy outweighs any potential risks.

Employees at CHI St. Joseph’s in Park Rapids were notified in August that COVID-19 vaccine was mandatory by Nov. 1 for all employees unless they were approved for an exemption.

Employees who have concerns about the vaccine believe they should have the freedom of choice whether or not to be vaccinated, while the hospital believes the vaccine is necessary to protect colleagues and patients.

Expectant mom wants to protect her baby

Amy Schmidt has been a registered nurse at CHI St. Joseph’s Health for over four years.

She said the mandate was announced in a mass email.

“Because other facilities were mandating the vaccine I wasn’t surprised,” she said. “We could fill out a religious or medical exemption, which quite a few of us have done, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be accepted.

“The stipulation is that we’ll lose our job if we don’t do it. There is a major nursing shortage nationwide in our facility. The other night we each had a big handful of patients and no CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) and a mom in labor. We made it work, but there’s no way they could fire everybody. It doesn’t make sense they might lose some nurses, because there aren't enough already.”

Schmidt said she is about halfway through a pregnancy. “It scares me because there hasn’t been enough research on that,” she said. “I felt frustrated and nervous. I don’t want to lose my job, but I also don’t want to be forced to get this vaccine.

“I’ve read articles that there’s an 80 percent chance of spontaneous abortion (with the vacccine), which means the baby could die. One was a scholarly article. That’s scary for me. That would be traumatic. It’s just not worth the risk. Besides, our whole family had a mild case of COVID back in January of 2021. I’m curious if I still have antibodies. But they are only talking about vaccines.”

Schmidt said she filled out a religious exemption. “There’s aborted fetal cells in the vaccine, and that’s what a lot of us aren’t OK with,” she said. “I believe the exemption goes through our local Human Resources first and then to the higher-up people in charge of the facilities.”

She said she is trying not to dwell on the issue while waiting to hear if she gets an exemption. “I’m not going to sit and stress about it every day, but it’s a hot topic right now,” she said. “I think 70 people just in our facility are in the same boat as me. That’s a pretty high number for a little hospital. Some people aren’t going to fill out the exemption because they feel they should have a choice. They are just going to wait and see what happens. But those of us who wanted to try filled out the exemption.

“I know they’ve had meetings about how to staff the hospital, but they’re just hoping we cave in and do it. They’ve even said that. But our total core that’s into this, we are not caving in. Wadena and Staples hospitals do not require the vaccine. We like our little hospital, but it’s up to each individual if they feel it’s worth it.”

She said the topic is often discussed by coworkers. “Even some of the people who are vaccinated feel this mandate is wrong,” she said.

Concern about allergies to vaccine

April Knutson is the patient advocate at CHI St. Joseph’s in Park Rapids. She sent this email to the Enterprise expressing her concerns:

“When we received the email from our facility that they were mandating the COVID 19 vaccine my heart immediately sank. They told us we could request a medical or religious exemption. I immediately made an appointment to meet with my primary provider at Essentia Health to ask her to sign it. I have many medical issues including severe allergies to many things.

“My provider called me the morning of my appointment. She stated, ‘I will not be signing any exemptions unless you have any anaphylactic reactions to at least one ingredient in all three vaccines.’ I responded with, ‘I don’t know nor do I want to find out, you know I am allergic to the flu shot and many other medications.’ All she said was, ‘I’m sorry I am not signing it.’ We hung up. I was in tears.

“So I filled out the religious exemption as best as I could and turned it in. Was told it will take up to 15 days to receive their decision. With one of the vaccines being FDA approved now I feel it’s going to be even harder to get an exemption approved.

“I have no idea what I am going to do. I can’t chance my life on something that I could potentially be allergic to. We are to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. They haven’t said anything about other options like being tested every week. I don’t have the option to work remotely as they are mandating even remote workers be vaccinated.

“I love my job and I love helping my patients, but I just can’t chance my own safety for something so new. So as of Nov. 2 I will no longer have a job as the patient advocate.”

Impact of mandate on community

David Katz was an ER nurse at CHI St. Joseph’s for 26 years. He resigned from his job to go on a medical mission trip before the vaccination requirement went into effect, but says otherwise he would have been one of those quitting because of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

“I think there’s lots of medical evidence against what we’re being told as far as side effects and reactions to the vaccine,” he said. “Each person’s perspective is their own. The decision to be vaccinated or not is highly personal and their right. That right is being coerced away against their livelihood.”

Regardless of what side of the vaccine mandate people are on, Katz said if health care workers resign it will impact the community.

“We have a fairly small hospital and a fairly large service area dependent on our services,” he said. “Staff members who have to make the choice between being vaccinated and losing their livelihood also have an impact on the community to whatever degree they lose staff members over this. The hospital is one of the major employers in the community.”

CHI responds

“CHI St. Joseph's Health is part of CommonSpirit Health – one of the largest health systems in the country,” Communication/Marketing Director Sonja Day said. “On Aug. 12, CommonSpirit Health announced it would require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, just as we do with the flu vaccine.

“As health care providers we have a responsibility to help end this pandemic and protect our patients, our colleagues, and those in our communities. Requiring vaccination for our teams is critical to maintaining a safe care environment, keeping our communities safe and bringing an end to this pandemic as quickly as possible.”

Day said religious and medical exemptions are available for those who qualify. “The number of employees who applied for an exemption will be available once the deadline passes,” she said.

“The nursing shortage across the country is very real. CHI St. Joseph's Health will continue to recruit the very best to work with this dedicated team.”