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New Mexico hospital workers protest vaccine mandates

August 20, 2021 GMT
Nurse Katrina Philpot protests against COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates demonstrate near the state Capitol on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a health order this week obligating hospital workers to get COVID-19 vaccines. State workers are also ordered to get vaccinated. Philpot says her Rio Rancho hospital will fire her if she doesn't get her shots. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
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Nurse Katrina Philpot protests against COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates demonstrate near the state Capitol on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a health order this week obligating hospital workers to get COVID-19 vaccines. State workers are also ordered to get vaccinated. Philpot says her Rio Rancho hospital will fire her if she doesn't get her shots. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
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Nurse Katrina Philpot protests against COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates demonstrate near the state Capitol on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a health order this week obligating hospital workers to get COVID-19 vaccines. State workers are also ordered to get vaccinated. Philpot says her Rio Rancho hospital will fire her if she doesn't get her shots. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Around 150 people protested in front of the New Mexico state Capitol Friday, demanding an end to vaccine mandates for health care workers.

Many protesters identified themselves as hospital workers — nurses, nursing assistants and clerical workers. Other attendees included correctional officers, retirees and children of health care workers.

A state mandate requires nurses and other workers in high-risk environments to get vaccinated, and some hospitals have their own mandates.

“I believe the vaccine is harmful,” said practical nurse Katrina Philpot, who was picketing along the road outside the Capitol complex with a sign that read “Healthcare workers deserve rights.”

Philpot said the hospital she works at in Rio Rancho is requiring her to be vaccinated by Aug. 27 or be fired. She fears she won’t qualify for medical or religious exemptions to the mandate.

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State employees, including prison guards, are required to get vaccines or submit to weekly testing. At least one prison guard has sued the state over the mandate.

Supportive drivers honked as they passed, while those who disapproved yelled at the group.

Under the public health order rolled out earlier this week, all workers in New Mexico hospitals and congregate care facilities are required to be fully vaccinated, with only limited exceptions. California and Washington have issued similar mandates.

Those workers who are granted exemptions still will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test every week.

New Mexico has outpaced neighboring states when it comes to getting people vaccinated. About two-thirds of residents 18 and older have been fully vaccinated, but state health officials have warned that evidence shows inoculated people can still become infected and spread the virus.

The latest data provided by the state shows there were at least 2,866 breakthrough cases as of Aug. 9.

In all, more than 223,000 infections have been reported since the pandemic began.

Federal officials also are calling on people to get booster shots eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, saying signs point to the effectiveness of the vaccines waning over time.

Republican state lawmakers and others in New Mexico have raised concerns about the governor’s mandates, including one that requires attendees of the upcoming New Mexico State Fair to show proof of vaccination. Agriculture groups say the short notice may result in some teenagers not being able to participate in the annual junior livestock exhibition.

U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, New Mexico’s sole Republican delegate, and other top GOP officials sent a letter to the governor asking that individuals be allowed to attend the fair if they test negative for COVID-19. They noted that many people, especially children from rural areas, will likely be unable to receive their second dose in time.

“It is unreasonable and harsh to ask families to choose between unwanted medical decisions and their child’s hard work,” said state Sen. Gregory Baca of Belen. “Our rural families who work all year to show at the state fair deserved to be included in this decision.”

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Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.