More than 150 staff members at a Houston-area hospital were fired or resigned on Tuesday for not following a policy that requires employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
The hospital, Houston Methodist, had told employees that they had to be vaccinated by June 7 or face suspension for two weeks. Of the nearly 200 employees who had been suspended, 153 of them were terminated by the hospital on Tuesday or had resigned, according to Gale Smith, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
Ms. Smith said employees who had complied with the vaccine policy during the suspension period were allowed to return to work a day after they became compliant.
The hospital did not specify how many workers had complied and returned to work.
Earlier this month, dozens of employees who had not been vaccinated by Houston Methodist’s deadline protested outside of the hospital against the mandatory vaccine policy.
The protest followed a now dismissed lawsuit filed last month by 117 Houston Methodist employees against their employer over the vaccine policy. The workers’ lawsuit accused the hospital of “forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.”
Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who led the Houston Methodist protest, had cited the lack of full F.D.A. approval for the shots as a reason she wouldn’t get vaccinated.
U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, in the Southern District of Texas, rejected a claim by Ms. Bridges, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, that the vaccines available for use in the United States were experimental and dangerous.
“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” Judge Hughes wrote. “Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”
With medical supplies depleted, vaccines scarce, doctors lamenting physical and mental fatigue and hospitals turning away patients for lack of beds or oxygen, health officials say they fear a wave like the one that ripped through India in April and May could be looming in western Kenya and other parts of Africa.
All of Africa is vulnerable, as the latest wave of the pandemic sweeps the continent, driven in part by more transmissible variants. Fewer than 1 percent of Africa’s people have been even partly vaccinated, by far the lowest rate for any continent.
“I think the greatest risk in Africa is to look at what happened in Italy earlier on and what happened in India and start thinking we are safe — to say it’s very far away from us and that we may not go the same way,” said Dr. Mark Nanyingi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Liverpool in Britain. He called a surge now gripping western Kenya a “storm on the horizon.”
Covid-related deaths in Africa climbed by nearly 15 percent last week compared to the previous one, based on available data from almost 40 nations, the World Health Organization said. But experts say the true scale of the pandemic far exceeds reported figures in Africa, where testing and tracing remain a challenge for many countries, and many nations do not collect mortality data.
In late May, before Kenya’s president and other leaders arrived to celebrate a major public holiday, health officials in Kisumu on Lake Victoria saw disaster brewing. Coronavirus cases were spiking, hospital isolation units were filling up and the highly contagious Delta variant had been found in Kenya for the first time — in Kisumu County.
Local health officials pleaded with the politicians to hold a virtual event instead, but their objections were waved away. In the weeks since, all reports show an alarming surge in infections and deaths in the county of just over 1.1 million people, with the virus sickening mostly young people.
“The India example is not lost to us,” Dr. Nyunya said.
To forestall the ongoing crisis, Kenya’s Ministry of Health last week imposed a restriction on gatherings and extended a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Kisumu and more than a dozen surrounding counties.
In Uganda, which borders Kenya near Kisumu and has announced record cases and deaths, President Yoweri Museveni has imposed a strict 42-day lockdown. Just weeks ago, Rwanda hosted the Basketball Africa League and other big sporting events, raising the possibility for a full reopening. But after a spike in cases, the government introduced new lockdown measures on Monday.
The Democratic Republic of Congo — where the virus has claimed the lives of more than 5 percent of lawmakers — is grappling with a third wave as it falters in rolling out vaccines. South Africa, the continent’s worst-hit nation, has reported new cases doubling in just two weeks’ time, with the sharpest increases in major urban centers. Tunisia, where hospitals are full and oxygen supplies are low, is enduring a fourth wave.
The super-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is now responsible for about one in every five Covid-19 cases in the United States, and its prevalence has doubled in the last two weeks, heath officials said on Tuesday.
First identified in India, Delta is one of several “variants of concern,” as designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. It has spread rapidly through India and Britain.
Its appearance in the United States is not surprising. And with vaccinations ticking up and Covid-19 case numbers falling, it’s unclear how much of a problem Delta will cause here. Still, its swift rise has prompted concerns that it might jeopardize the nation’s progress in beating back the pandemic.
“The Delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate Covid-19,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said at the briefing. The good news, he said, is that the vaccines authorized in the United States work against the variant. “We have the tools,” he said. “So let’s use them, and crush the outbreak.”
The White House on Tuesday publicly acknowledged that President Biden does not expect to meet his goal of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4 and will reach that milestone only for those aged 27 and older.
It would be the first time that Mr. Biden has failed to meet a vaccination goal he has set. If the rate of adult vaccinations continues on the current seven-day average, the country will come in just shy of Mr. Biden’s target, with about 67 percent of adults partly vaccinated by July 4, according to a New York Times analysis.
White House officials have argued that falling short by a few percentage points is not significant, given all the progress the nation has made against Covid-19. “We have built an unparalleled, first-of-its-kind, nationwide vaccination program,” Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House pandemic response coordinator, said at a news briefing. “This is a remarkable achievement.”
In announcing the goal on May 4, Mr. Biden made a personal plea to the unvaccinated, saying getting a shot was a “life and death” choice. According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 150 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and 177 million have received at least one dose.
Young adults aged 18 to 26 have so far proven particularly hard to persuade. Younger Americans are less likely to be vaccinated than their elders, and factors like income and education may affect vaccine hesitancy, according to two new studies by the C.D.C.
“The reality is many younger Americans that felt like Covid-19 is not something that impacts them, and they’ve been less eager to get the shot,” Mr. Zients said.
He said it would take “a few extra weeks” to reach more of that group to achieve the goal of 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated.
Mr. Zients and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, both stressed that the administration’s efforts would continue long after that benchmark is reached. Seventy percent “is not the goal line, nor is it the end game,” Dr. Fauci said. “The end game is to go well beyond that, beyond July 4 into the summer and beyond, with…