People bearing a variety of signs stood at the corner of Washington and South Sixth streets Friday, Aug. 20, in Brainerd to protest mandated vaccinations for doctors and nurses.

According to the Facebook event posted by Mindy Strong, "This will be a silent protest for our local Dr's and Nurse's being forced to get the jab or lose their job. We are not for, nor against vaccinations, we are for medical freedom and our rights as a US citizen. Please help our front line workers to be able to CHOOSE whether they want the vaccine or not. Help our families to have a say for our children's education. They should not have to lose their livelihoods because they don't want a vaccine."

Essentia Health announced Aug. 4 that its employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19. The health care provider already requires that its staff receive the flu vaccine each year.

The Duluth-based nonprofit issued a statement saying that after careful consideration, it will require all staff members to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of their employment.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The requirement will apply to anyone entering facilities to perform services for Essentia Health, including all of its on-site employees, remote workers, volunteers, students, non-employed medical staff, vendors, contractors and board members.

Employees are expected to receive their first dose of vaccine by Oct. 1 and their second dose in a two-dose series by Nov. 1. There will be a process for requesting a medical exemption based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or a religious exemption.

At the time of the announcement, Essentia President Dr. Jon Pryor acknowledged there would likely be some fallout as a result of the vaccine mandate.

"I think that the other way to look at this, though, is that by keeping our employees healthy and safe, we're less likely to lose them to COVID or have them forced to quarantine. So, in the long run, this is going to be beneficial for being able to have the resources to care for patients. And most importantly, it's going to be reassuring to our patients to know that we're doing everything possible to keep them safe. At the end of the day, that's the most important obligation we have," Pryor said.