ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — During a recent briefing, Gov. Andy Beshear said Kentucky hospitals were filling fast, nearly reaching capacity in some places. In an effort to curb the spread of the delta variant some of those hospitals are requiring workers to get their COVID-19 vaccines. It’s being met with pushback, especially in Hardin County.

Since Baptist Health released the news that all employees must receive a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month, there have been weekly protests right outside Baptist Health Hardin.

“No one should have to take a vaccine or a drug that they don't want to, we are not going to be made to, it's garbage, up to and including my death,” said protester Joe Doom.

Baptist Health said all of its employees must be fully vaccinated by October 31, and employees must get their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine by September 15.  Exceptions will be made for those with legitimate medical or religious reasons.

Brittany Smith has worked at the Hardin County Baptist Health location for more than 8 years. She organized the protest and hopes the rule changes.

“Personally I have religious reasons so I don't particularly think that my job is going to be affected by it because I will have an exemption but theres alot of people that dont have exemptions. The nurses here, and every other employee advocates for patient health for patient choice and I think it should be extended to the employees as well,” Smith said.

The vaccine requirement extends to contractors, independent licensed healthcare providers, students and vendors. Baptist says about 65-70% of its nearly 23,000 employees have already received the vaccine.

Community members joined healthcare workers to protest the policy. (Spectrum News 1/Erin Wilson)

Protesters included other front-line workers and Hardin County community members.

“It's surreal. I'm so thankful they have come out. Even people from different hospitals, miles away have come here and to other hospitals in Louisville just to protest with us,” Smith said. 

Twelve Kentucky hospitals are requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccines. Protestors as young as 12 are standing up for what they believe is "medical freedom."

"There's some people here who got the vaccine and they still realize that people should not be forced to do it and they are still out here trying to help those who don't want to get it,” Chloe Frye said.

According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccine reduces the risk of COVID-19 and its potentially severe complications like hospitalization and death including against the delta variant.

Baptist Health employees who do have a medical or religious reason not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine must apply for an exemption by August 30.

Those approved will have to be periodically tested for COVID-19.