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'Flu shots or fired' policy sparks protest at south county hospital

Employees said the hospital is requiring them to get the shot, or be fired.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Some employees at Mercy South say they're being given an ultimatum in order to keep their job.

Mercy bought the hospital from St. Anthony's in June 2017 and has since "revised their flu shot policy."

Employees said the hospital is requiring them to get the shot or be fired.

More than a dozen women protested outside Mercy Hospital South Tuesday afternoon, arguing the hospital’s flu shot policy is unfair. One protester said she's not trying to start a debate about whether the vaccine is effective. For her, it was about basic human rights.

The hospital requires its employees to get vaccinated but allows for “valid” religious and medical exemptions. Those whose requests are denied are required to get the vaccine or they face termination.

One employee, who asked only to be identified as a clinician, said his religious exemption request was denied without reason.

"Anyone with religious conviction would find it appalling that they felt they had the ultimate authority to decide what is and what is not a correct religious stance to have a valid objection to vaccination,” he told 5 On Your Side.

Mercy said the reason for the rule is simple. Protection against the flu saves lives, especially those of the most vulnerable patients.

Mercy doctors and nurses who support the policy point to just last year when the St. Louis region had one of the worst flu seasons on record.

5 On Your Side reached out to Mercy about the flu shot policy. They sent us this statement:

"Mercy is concerned for the health and wellness of our co-workers, patients, families and the communities we serve. Because we are focused on health and safety, Mercy revised our flu vaccination policy several years ago and requires annual flu immunizations by all Mercy co-workers as a condition of employment. There are exceptions for valid medical or religious reasons. The point of our flu vaccination policy is simple: protection against the flu virus saves lives, especially those of our most vulnerable patients. In health care, we must adopt national best practices for those we serve."

The Mercy policy allows for employees to opt out of the mandatory flu shot "for valid medical or religious reasons."

"They have a policy on their books that says sure you can apply for a medical or religious exemption and get your doctor or pastoral staff's note on that exemption and we'll accept it for you," said protester Nelia Aubuchon.

But Aubuchon said her friend is now in danger of losing her job.

She had a religious exemption for years before Mercy changed its policy. But protesters we talked to said some employees have had their exemptions denied.

READ MORE: US approves first new type of flu drug in 2 decades

On Tuesday, Mercy said one employee was fired for not complying with the flu shot rule.