Protesters rallied on Saturday against California's vaccine mandate for medical workers. | Credit: Atmika Iyer

The street corner outside Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital was the scene for one of many California protests on Saturday against Governor Newsom’s vaccine mandate for health-care workers. Flyers advertising the Medical Freedom rallies had circulated around Southern California during the week and attracted about 100 people to the Goleta event to decry a state requirement that medical workers be fully vaccinated by September 30.

Many types of protesters were on the sidewalks at Patterson and Hollister Avenue — families, would-be politicians, nurses, and supporters of the anti-vaccination and anti-mask movements — holding signs and cheering when cars honked in support.

Among the protesters was a Santa Barbara nurse who said of the new mandate to be vaccinated: “We were good enough for the past year and a half to keep people safe and keep people going. Why aren’t we good enough now?” The nurse, who asked for anonymity, said she has been pro-vaccine in all her 15-year career, but she regarded the COVID-19 vaccines as an experiment. “There’s not a whole lot of long-term safety data,” she said. “It’s really concerning that it’s getting pushed and forced on so many people.”

The rally took place the weekend before the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine on August 23 for people above 16 years old. Trials are ongoing for young adults between 12 and 15, who are currently approved under emergency-use status. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still under emergency-use authorizations.

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Other protesters agreed that they didn’t feel comfortable receiving a vaccine prior to full FDA authorization. Most were willing to speak with the media, but one individual used a bullhorn to yell at an Independent reporter. “That’s a bad question,” she advised when asked how she’d heard about the rally. She then followed the reporter around the intersection, occasionally chanting, “We are not the new Jews in Germany.”

According to Grace Wallace, a former Goleta City Council candidate who was attending the rally with the group Make America Free Again, “[We are] standing up for the medical community, the doctors and nurses who do not want to get the COVID shot,” she said. “As we know, if it’s a vaccination, then you shouldn’t be able to get reinfected. It’s supposed to be a cure, and it is not,” she said, referring to breakthrough infections.

“Eyes are being opened,” Wallace said. “It’s not about being Republican or Democrat. It’s not about Trump. It’s about us, as Americans, standing for our rights as citizens of the Golden State and citizens of Santa Barbara County.”

Among Cottage employees, 89 percent were vaccinated as of August 13, and 97 percent among its medical staff. Though the protest took place near the Goleta hospital, Cottage spokesperson Maria Zate said, “The rally was not on our property and was not endorsed by our health-care organization. We encourage anyone with questions about COVID to seek information from their medical provider.”

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