The vaccine conundrum and the Mayo Clinic

This week, some 700 unvaccinated Mayo Clinic employees lost their jobs because they did not agree to take the COVID-19 vaccine or did not receive a medical or religious exemption.  In addition, an unknown number of Mayo employees have already quit or retired to avoid being fired.  The move comes as hospitals throughout the country struggle with a surge in hospital admissions combined with severe staff shortages.

Mayo, like many corporations, is between a rock and a hard place due to President Biden's federal vaccine mandate.  They have been put in a uniquely difficult position because their multistate clinic is often relied upon to develop and promote government public health policy.  For decades, Mayo has provided trusted medical advice to the country and world.  At a time when public trust in the federal government's ability to lead the pandemic recovery has eroded, we would all benefit from Mayo's leadership in realizing that it made a mistake in terminating these frontline workers.

Like many local elected officials, Minnesota state rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-21B) began hearing from constituents who faced a real conundrum: get vaccinated or get fired.  Drazkowski's constituents are some of the 47,500 employees of the Mayo Clinic, his state's largest employer.

The clinic offered some exemptions to those employees who have a medical reason to not vaccinate or a "sincerely held religious belief."  In a recent letter to Mayo's CEO, Drazkowski asks, "In the application process for a religious exemption, Mayo Clinic employees are asked to, 'provide any information that will help us to determine that your belief is sincerely held.' How are Mayo Clinic employees supposed to prove their beliefs to you?"

Employees who suggested that their discomfort was with the use of fetal cells in the testing of vaccines were warned that medications such as aspirin, ivermectin, and hydroxychloroquine also had been tested with fetal cells.  Did this mean that if they did receive a religious exemption, their employment would be ended if they ever took a Tylenol?                                                              

Mayo CEO Dr. Gianrico Farrugia responded to Drazkowski's question.  Mayo "has always been primarily about our mission to put the patient's interest first," Farrugia said.  "Mayo Clinic is a global destination for a significant number of cancer treatment patients and, as a world leader in complex and serious care, provides support to highly vulnerable and immunocompromised patients.  These patients deserve the safety of having vaccinated staff to care for them."

But what does that have to do with the very subjective process of granting religious vaccine absolution to Joe the custodian but not Jane the nurse, based on their application essays and choices in drop-down menus?

The Sisters of St. Francis, who for many years provided free labor in the wards of the Mayo Clinic, also created a culture of religious freedom for employees to practice their faith and work for Mayo.  The institution has never been afraid to tackle thorny, controversial moral issues while caring for sick patients.

Unvaccinated visitors, vendors, and patients, together with the employees who received vaccination exemptions, certainly far outnumber the employees who were fired by Mayo.  Moreover, the vaccines do not prevent catching or spreading the virus.  Employees at the Florida campus were not fired, but those in Minnesota were.  All this suggests that fairness, common sense, and sound science played little, if any, role in this arbitrary decision.

Farrugia also stated plainly that the federal government was threatening Mayo with loss of funding from Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.  He correctly points out the vaccine mandate "coincided with the federal government's intent to issue regulations under which providers must require staff vaccination, absent a qualifying exemption, as a condition of the provider's continued participation in Medicare or Medicaid."

America's hospitals and medical centers have become too dependent on the favor of elected politicians and funding from the federal government.  Unfortunately, it is completely rational for hospitals to be terrified about disappointing state and federal administrators and bureaucrats.

However, Mayo risks losing the trust of a grateful nation and world to the same collapse of confidence that has so irreparably damaged other previously trusted institutions.

Mayo's mission focus on "the best interest of the patient" has helped create myriad medical miracles that have saved countless lives and alleviated the suffering of people from all over the world.  The country has been corrupted into believing that the treatment of COVID-19 should somehow depend on vaccination status.  Given the present circumstances, it is imperative that Mayo Clinic, and medical facilities throughout America, put their patients and employees above political grandstanding.

Matt Dean ( is a senior fellow for health care policy at The Heartland Institute.

Image: Mayo Clinic.

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