BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Theresa Malek is being placed on unpaid leave from her job as an ECMC nurse, and she is hardly alone.
The hospital placed 5% of its staff on leave as New York State’s vaccine mandate for hospital and nursing home workers kicked in. Next door, 20% of the staff at the Terrace View Long Term Care Facility was also placed on leave.
Malek, currently in quarantine after being diagnosed with COVID, says she will be officially placed on leave when she comes off quarantine on Wednesday. She tells News 4 she has been told that come October 27 if she has not been vaccinated, she’ll be considered to have resigned.
“It’s been a very, very difficult decision,” Malek admitted. “To chose to walk away from a career that – in a year and a half I would have had a pension.”
While saying her decision not to get vaccinated was difficult, Malek conceded ultimately, the decision is a “hard no”.
“The only reconsideration is I’m wondering if this is the best thing for my family, because for myself I have absolutely no problem saying no to this mandate. But I’m responsible. I’m the sole provider of my household,” she said.
Instead, she’s found new employment, a traveling job. It means she’ll keep a steady income, but be away from her family.
“I’ll be in Atlanta for two months, after which we’ll see if I’m going to stay in Atlanta or if I’m going to find something a little closer,” Malek said.
Hospital and nursing home workers all across New York State have been preparing for Monday. State regulations say they must have at least one COVID shot. If they don’t by the end of the day, they can be terminated, state health officials say.
In preparation for potential staffing shortages, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she would sign an executive order Monday.
“It would be needed for us to make any adjustments to the current licensing requirements for us to bring someone who is retired,” Hochul said. “We’ve sent out the alarm. We have a pool of individuals who want to help. But I can’t do anything with respect to their licensing until the executive order is signed.”
Hochul, urging all health care professionals get vaccinated, also signaled over the weekend she was keeping options on the table to deploy medically trained National Guard members and partner with the federal government to deploy Disaster Medical Assistance Teams. The governor additionally says she wants to explore ways to expedite visa requests for health care professionals.
As for why she has decided not to get the vaccine, “Not having enough information on long term (effects) and concerns for my own long term health with family history of multiple different types of cancer,” Malek said, also referencing a history of autoimmune diseases in her family.
Dr. Thomas Russo, an infectious disease expert at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine, says historically, all adverse reactions from vaccinations have been experienced within the first two months of receiving it.
“This has held true also for the COVID vaccines,” Russo said.
“I think it’s important to note that when individuals get COVID, they develop autoantibodies that put them at risk for developing autoimmune disease,” Russo added. “So it’s quite clear at this time – there haven’t really been any descriptions of autoantibodies per se, particularly with the RNA vaccines – but unequivocally, they’ve been described with COVID.
“So once again, this falls in the categories where the risk of getting infected and potential long term consequences are quite real and significant, whereas with vaccination, we haven’t seen that and we don’t anticipate seeing that.”
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.