By Carol Vaughn —
A group of around two dozen NASA Wallops Flight Facility employees and their supporters demonstrated outside the facility’s main gate Wednesday morning to protest a mandate saying federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The protesters say they will continue to demonstrate there every Wednesday, in the face of a November deadline for federal workers to show proof of vaccination.
The White House issued an executive order Sept. 9 mandating vaccines for federal workers.
Federal employees need to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, according to guidelines issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.
Federal contractors have until Dec. 8 to be fully vaccinated, according to the guidelines.
As a television camera from a Maryland station rolled, demonstrators chanted slogans, including “Jobs, not jabs,” “My body, my choice,” “We will not comply,” and “Freedom over force,” as drivers of several vehicles driving up to the gate honked in support.
Caryn Abbott said she is a nurse and her husband works at the facility.
“It’s about freedom and the freedom of choice,” she said, adding that many of the protesters have gotten the vaccine but “they are standing here with us because they disagree with mandates, you know, and people should have the freedom.You are injecting something into your body — that’s not bodily autonomy when somebody is telling you, ‘You have to do this.’ It’s not like this is smallpox — it’s not. It’s harmless. We have 99.9% survival rate if you are healthy.”
Abbott said adverse reactions and deaths resulting from the vaccine are being under-reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, which is co-managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Right now, there are over 15,000 deaths, and that’s one tenth, because most people don’t report because it’s very tedious to report,” she said.
A search of the VAERS website, https://wonder.cdc.gov/vaers.html, Wednesday showed 7,920 deaths and 9,446 life-threatening events reported to the system related to the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the website, a report to VAERS does not necessarily mean the vaccine caused the reported event.
In a CDC study, over 600,000 COVID-19 cases from April through mid-July were evaluated and linked to vaccination status. Looking at cases over the past two months, when the delta variant was predominant, unvaccinated people were about four and a half times more likely to get COVID-19, over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die from the disease.
Still, demonstrators said employees should have a choice about whether to be vaccinated.
“These people, they could lose their jobs over this — and who’s going to replace them? It’s not like this is a job where you can just hire somebody and they come down and do labor. We’ve got to have people who are skilled in certain areas; they’ve got to have an education to do a lot of these things,” said Shannon Ruba, president of Security Police Fire Professionals of America Local 459 at Wallops.
Ruba said he is vaccinated, but said, “I believe you should have a choice.”
“It’s always, you have a choice — and right now, we’re not given the choice,” said J. J. Williams, an employee.
“…We’re not debating on if you should get it or not. Like I said, it’s a choice. We want our voices to be heard and the thing is, it’s not fair; it’s not human,” he said.
Williams asked why Congress and White House staff are exempt from the mandate.
“It makes you kind of question things, you know. It’s like, we have to do it, but you guys are exempt. That makes me question a lot,” he said.
Congress does not fall under the executive order mandating vaccination for federal workers.
An executive order is a signed, written, and published directive from the President of the United States that manages operations of the federal government, according to the American Bar Association. Because of the separation of powers, the president does not have the power to mandate that members of the legislative branch, Congress, be vaccinated.
White House staff, however, are federal employees.
A NASA WFF spokesman said Wednesday the agency does not have information about how many of its employees have been vaccinated.
About the protests, spokesman Keith Koehler said, “Individuals have the right to free speech and to peaceably assemble.”
He said federal civil servants are are required to be fully vaccinated by the deadline, “as required by the President’s Executive order signed Sept. 9” and that, under another executive order issued Sept. 9, most federal contractors and subcontractors will have to ensure that their employees are fully vaccinated unless the employee is legally entitled to an accommodation.
“NASA is working with contractors to determine how this requirement will be implemented. Contractor employees should look for further guidance from their employers,” Koehler said.
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their last required dose of vaccine, meaning federal workers will have to receive their last dose of vaccine no later than Nov. 8 to meet the deadline.
That means, for the Pfizer vaccine, employees need to receive their first dose no later than Oct. 18 to meet the deadline. For the Moderna vaccine, they should get their first dose no later than Oct. 11. For Johnson & Johnson, which has only one shot, federal employees have until Nov. 8 to receive it.
The task force also issued guidelines for steps to be taken if an employee refuses vaccination, which say, in part, “As an initial matter, an agency should provide employees with information regarding the benefits of vaccination and ways to obtain the vaccine. If the individual continues to refuse to be vaccinated or provide proof of vaccination, the agency should pursue disciplinary measures, up to and including removal from federal service.”