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A Lehigh Valley doctor is speaking out after the region's three largest health providers jointly announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its employees and contractors.

Dr. Chaminie Wheeler said she is not against vaccines--she's had the flu shot and others. She said she also advocates for her patients to get various vaccinations.

But she did not get vaccinated against COVID-19 and -- even as a health care worker--doesn't think she should have to.

"We have to give individuals freedom to choose their life for themselves," Wheeler said. "I don't take lightly what we've gone through as a world, and the toll this pandemic has taken on deaths, hospitalizations, mental health."

Wheeler is employed through a physician's group and works at St. Luke's Anderson campus, but doesn't work for St. Luke's.

Her husband is an ER doctor for St. Luke's. She said he also did not get the vaccine.

St. Luke's, along with other area hospitals, is mandating its employees get vaccinated. The Wheelers know what that means.

"So yes, I am willing to lose my job," Wheeler said.

Dr. Jeffrey Jahre is an infectious disease specialist and Senior Vice President for Medical and Academic Affairs at St. Luke's.

"We always feel along with rights, there is a second R- that is responsibility. Our first responsibility is to protect our patients from contracting a disease that can certainly be deadly or crippling. Secondarily, but equally, to protect our staff from the same type of situation. The best way we can do that is immunizations. There is absolutely no question, immunizations cut down on the risk of acquiring the disease," Jahre said.

Wheeler also has issue with the argument of mandating COVID-19 immunizations for the greater good.

"I'm sorry to say but they don't have proof that it is for the greater good, when there's vaccinated and unvaccinated and carriers," Wheeler said. "That's why we're wearing masks as vaccinated or unvaccinated."

Even if the vaccines aren't perfect, Jahre said the vaccines drastically reduce the risk of getting and spreading the disease.

"These vaccines, in a certain proportion of individuals, can range in lowest incidence 40% to 80%, will protect you from getting the disease. Period. If you don't have a disease, are not infected with a disease, asymptomatic or otherwise, you can't spread it," Jahre said.

Wheeler also takes issue with the mandate, given the newness of the vaccines.

Jahre said history shows major vaccine side effects are typically identified within one to two months of being on the market. The COVID vaccines have been around much longer.

He also says mRNA technology, which is used in the COVID vaccines, has been studied for 30 years.

"We know, based on what we're seeing, the side effects pale in comparison to the side effects potentially available when you actually get the disease," Jahre said.

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