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By Peter Szekely and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jennifer Bridges loved her job as a nurse at Houston Methodist Hospital, where she worked for eight years, but she chose to get fired rather than inoculated against COVID-19, believing that the vaccine was more of a threat than the deadly virus.

Bridges was among about 150 employees who were fired or resigned rather than comply with the requirement at Methodist, which was the country's first large health system to mandate vaccinations. About 25,000 other employees at the hospital system complied.

"I have never felt so strong about anything," said Bridges, 39, who lives in Houston. She was terminated from her $70,000 per year post on June 21, the deadline for employees to get a jab. "I did not feel there was proper research in this shot. It had been developed very quickly."

Houston Methodist is one of a growing number of private employers that have made vaccinations a requirement of the job. New York and California are among the states that have required vaccinations for healthcare workers.

Mandates have proven to be effective in boosting vaccination rates in healthcare. In New York, for example, Governor Kathy Hochul on Thursday said 92 percent of the state's more than 625,000 healthcare workers were inoculated, up from 73 percent on August 16 when former Governor Andrew Cuomo laid down a September 27 deadline for vaccinations.

Then-Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said the mandate would "help close the vaccination gap" and reduce the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Even so, there are pockets of resistance in the healthcare field. Those interviewed by Reuters said they had been immunized for other diseases, but said a lack of long-term data on the three COVID vaccines available in the United States was reason enough for them to step into an uncertain future after years of job security.

Speaking in support of the vaccines available in the United States, medical experts have said they had received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in less than a year, instead of the usual several years, due to factors including ample funding and test subjects, piggybacking off earlier research, and international collaboration.

'Slap In My Face'

Many of the workers who walked away had enough financial wherewithal to allow them to stick to their convictions.

For Bridges, the high demand for nurses meant she could refuse the shot without sacrificing financial security. On the same day she was fired by Methodist, she started training for her next job at a private nursing company that has no vaccine mandate.

Nurse Katie Yarber also found a job after leaving Houston Methodist but only after going 12 weeks without a paycheck and depleting "a big chunk" of her savings. Still, she said she does not regret her decision to depart after 14 years of service.

Yarber, 35, said she would not get the vaccine because of her religious convictions, a stance that the hospital rejected. She is also wary of possible long-term side effects.

"I kind of felt like it was a slap in my face," said Yarber, who began working at the hospital as a medical records clerk before earning a nursing degree. "I went to work, I did my job, I did it with a smile. I was a really good employee."

Yarber, who said she has already had COVID, is now a work-from-home nurse case manager. She had a brief stint at Texas Children's Hospital but that ended when it too required vaccinations.

Carolyn Euart is one of about 175 workers dismissed last Monday after refusing vaccinations at Novant Health, a North Carolina hospital network. She is now considering a new career.

With 24 years as a patient services coordinator, Euart, 56, had planned to retire from Novant, but is now exploring opening a dessert restaurant and sweet shop.

After battling cancer since 2008, she felt the risk of a vaccine was greater than COVID, which four of her family members have had.

"I needed the job, but I didn't think that my job was worth my life," she said.

A Novant spokeswoman said on Tuesday that 99 percent of its more than 35,000 employees have been vaccinated against coronavirus.

Nationally, more than 77 percent of adults have received at least one vaccine dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country's COVID death toll has surpassed 700,000, according to a Reuters tally.

In upstate New York, Andrew Kurtyko said he is ready to be fired from his $90,000 nursing job at Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston for refusing the shot. He knows he could earn more by working as a "travel nurse," taking temporary jobs around the country.

"Certainly with my years of experience, I'm pretty marketable," said Kurtyko, 47, a divorced father of a college student who has a mortgage to pay.

Like some other medical workers, Kurtyko questions the efficacy and safety of the vaccines. He is also seeking a religious exemption from the Catholic Hospital. If he is denied, he expects to lose his job on October12.

Bob Nevens, 47, Houston Methodist's top risk manager for 10 years, also prefers to take his chances with COVID over a vaccine. As a consequence, he became one of the country's first workplace mandate casualties in April.

Besides a lack of long-term data, Nevens said he refused Methodist's mandate because it did not acknowledge "natural immunity" for those who had already contracted COVID and because vaccine manufacturers are shielded from liability.

He said he was not worried about money.

"Financially, I'm fine," he said. "Mentally, it's exhausting, because I didn't want to make that decision. I had planned on retiring from Houston Methodist."

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Daniel Wallis)

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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