Thousands of workers are getting fired for refusing the vaccine Employers are firing workers for refusing to comply with vaccine mandates. They represent only a tiny fraction of overall employees, not even 1% in some workplaces. But it can add up to thousands.

Thousands of workers are opting to get fired, rather than take the vaccine

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Detroit, 400 workers at the Henry Ford Health System quit their jobs because of a vaccine mandate. North Carolina-based Novant Health fired 175 employees. Almost 1,900 workers in Washington state are out, including a head college football coach. Workers who refused to get vaccinated represent only a tiny fraction of overall employees across the country. Still, NPR's Andrea Hsu talked with a few of them to understand why not getting the vaccine is worth losing their jobs.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: For 33 years, Karl Bohnak had his dream job.

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KARL BOHNAK: Winds this evening - well, they have a north component or slightly north...

HSU: Bohnak was chief meteorologist at TV6 on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a self-described weather nut who lives for snowstorms. His steady forecasts led to a promotional campaign at his station in the 1990s.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's what Karl says.

HSU: And it stuck ever since. Someone even wrote a song about him.

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UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) That's what Karl says.

HSU: Then this year came the biggest storm of his career. Gray Television, which owns his station and many more across the country, announced that all of its employees must be fully vaccinated - managers by mid-September and two weeks after that for everyone else. Bohnak knew right away he'd be out by the end of the month.

BOHNAK: I just did not want to take the shot. I felt it was my right as a human being and a citizen of the United States to decide what I put in my body.

HSU: Never mind that the science shows vaccines protect not just you but those around you and that not being vaccinated could put your colleagues at risk.

BOHNAK: This is America, and we have a choice.

HSU: Well, on September 14, he had just finished the 7 p.m. news when his general manager called him urgently. He'd learned that as chief meteorologist, Bohnak was considered a manager. His deadline to be vaccinated was the next day, not the end of the month. Bohnak went home for dinner, as he always did, and returned for the late-night news. He delivered the forecast at 10 and 11.

BOHNAK: And that was it. I walked out, and I knew that I'd never walk into that building again after 33 years.

HSU: Karl Bohnak is 68. For him, retirement has come early. But many others who have quit or been fired over vaccine mandates are still in the prime of their careers.

JENNIFER BRIDGES: My name's Jennifer Bridges. I've been a registered nurse a little over eight years now. Most of the time was Houston Methodist until I got fired back in June.

HSU: Bridges was one of about 150 people who quit or were fired from the hospital system for refusing the vaccine. They made up less than 1% of employees, but they were loud.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Frontline health care workers fighting back in Texas - nearly...

HSU: Bridges became the face of the resistance. And that led to five job offers, including two at hospitals, all before she was actually fired.

BRIDGES: People were offering me jobs back in May.

HSU: She's now in private nursing, tending to one patient full time. For other Houston Methodist workers, getting fired has had graver consequences. Becky Melcer worked as a scheduler, setting up diagnostic procedures, sometimes surgeries. It was a career she was proud of. She'd planned to retire from the hospital. Instead, she, too, was fired in June.

BECKY MELCER: Two weeks shy of 15 years.

HSU: She applied for unemployment but was denied, told she was not eligible since she'd been fired for misconduct. She's appealing the decision. Meantime, looking for a new job has been tough. She tried other hospitals. But at every turn, she encountered vaccine mandates.

MELCER: Started interviewing in one, and then they were going to start requiring it - and put my application at another hospital, and then they started requiring it.

HSU: Now she's trying for customer service jobs outside of health care, and she's getting a start in real estate. The thing about Melcer, she was not originally against the COVID vaccine. She'd actually made an appointment to get it back in January. But twice, her first shot was delayed for reasons beyond her control. Then she says God came to her in a dream.

MELCER: He kept telling me, don't take it; don't take it. And I said, really? And I kept questioning. And he kept coming back with, yeah, don't take it.

HSU: Despite the strong evidence that vaccines work, her mind is made up. She will never take the vaccine. And so at 59 years old, her job search continues.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News.

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