ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Thousands of unvaccinated New York health care employees who are still on the job with a religious exemption are expected to find out their fate on Tuesday.
The state has until Oct. 12 to respond to a federal judge who’s considering whether New York’s COVID vaccination mandate must accommodate requests for religious exemptions.
One of those employees is Krista Michael of Greece. She has spent more than three decades devoting her life to being a nurse. She has stepped up, along with her colleagues, when needed, even during the pandemic.
"So we were doing our bit to prepare to do our job to take care of the sick as patients, the sickest of the sickest," Michael said, who ended up catching COVID herself.
“I did risk a lot to care for your families, your loved ones,” she said. “We did what we were called to do. In a time of critical need. We did step up to the call of duty. We took risks, we made sacrifices.”
Michael has worked at Unity Hospital since 1990, currently as a surgical nurse, and previously in several departments including the emergency center and chemical dependency.
Now, she is choosing to not get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Since I've already recovered from COVID, I have natural antibodies,” she said. “I have a natural immunity that I feel is safe and effective for me. At least from what I have read and studied so far, I feel confident that the immunity that I have is complete, it's durable and I feel safe with that.”
Michael has a religious exemption, allowing her to continue working at Unity Hospital until Oct. 12, the day the expected ruling could help shape whether states must allow religious objections to COVID-19 vaccinations in hospital settings and beyond.
“I've never said from the beginning that I was anti-vax and I will continue to say I'm not anti-vax,” she said. “I simply don't want this one yet, I don't want it now. And the fact that the government is forcing it upon me or I lose my career, I think is an overstepping of their boundaries.”
New York’s vaccine mandate applies to all people who work in hospitals, nursing homes and certain other health care settings. It does not allow the employees to opt-out with weekly testing, forcing them to choose between getting the shot and their jobs.
“If they have to fire me, then they'll have to fire me,” she said. “I won't resign and I won't quit.”
Michael says she is a dedicated, committed, veteran nurse who does not want to stop caring for patients.
"I will go to work every day, essentially, until I'm told I can no longer work here,” she said. “But I will show up to work and do my very dead level best every day of my life, every opportunity that I have until I'm forced out.”