Fired CHOP Couple: Religion Kept Them From Getting Vaccinated

CHOP: Strict vaccine policy for safety of children

By Byron Scott
|  Monday, Dec 7, 2009  |  Updated 6:05 AM EDT
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CHOP Workers Fired Over Flu Shot

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CHOP Workers Fired Over Flu Shot

Several employees were fired from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for refusing to take the seasonal flu vaccination.
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Several Children's Hospital of Philadelphia employees were fired for refusing to get the seasonal flu vaccine.

The people who were let go said this year is the first that the hospital has mandated flu shots.

"I never thought that not getting a flu shot would result in the loss of my job," said Tyrika Cowlay.

Cowlay and her husband, Gary, whom she met while working at Children's Hospital, were among those fired for failure to get the shot.

"Our seasonal flu vaccine policy is stronger than most hospitals in our region – and it should be, because we care for the sickest of sick children," read a statement from CHOP. "Many of the children in our care have never had a chance to have a seasonal flu vaccine themselves so we have to do it for them. Many of our patients are either too young or their immune systems are too weak."

The Cowlays said they refused to get the shot for religious reasons.

"I am a Christian, and my religion prohibits me from receiving vaccines," said Tyrika Cowlay, who was a lab technician. Gary Cowlay worked in environmental services.

The five unvaccinated CHOP employees were suspended for two weeks. Friday was the deadline to get the shot, and when they didn't they were fired.

"I've been with CHOP for nine years," Gary Cowlay said. "Love working there -- friendly staff, friendly people -- but I never thought this stance would be taken on us."

Some of the fired employees, including Gary Cowlay, are members of the health care union. A union spokesperson said some people were granted a religious exemption but others were not.

"We're at a loss in terms of how does an institution make a determination of somebody's spiritual and religious beliefs and say, 'For you it's OK, but for you it's not OK,'" Gary McCormick said.

CHOP said it offered opportunities to apply for medical and religious exemptions but not exemptions based on "personally held beliefs."

"We really have this strong belief," Gary Cowlay said. "If it wasn't that strong I would never jeopardize my job, knowing I have five kids, a wife, a mortgage. That's how deeply we feel about this."

The union will take the cases to arbitration.

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