COVID-19 vaccine
COVID-19 vaccineiStock

More than 150 employees at the Houston Methodist hospital in Texas were fired or resigned after failing to comply with orders to get a COVID-19 vaccination to continue working there, a hospital spokeswoman said Tuesday, according to AFP.

Officials Houston Methodist told its staff they needed to have received a COVID vaccination by June 7 or be suspended for two weeks.

Hospital spokeswoman Gale Smith told AFP that 153 employees "either resigned in the two-week suspension period or were terminated today."

"The employees who became compliant during the suspension period returned to work the day after they became compliant," she said.

Nearly 200 staff had been suspended, the New York Times reported, and protests were staged against the mandatory vaccine rule.

Last month, 117 staff members filed a lawsuit against the hospital, accusing it of "forcing its employees to be human 'guinea pigs' as a condition for continued employment."

The lawsuit was dismissed by a judge who said the vaccines' safety was not at issue, and that Texas law only protects employees from refusing to commit a crime.

Houston houses the world's largest medical complex, the Texas Medical Center, which employs more than 106,000 health care workers in all, and sees some 10 million patients a year.

As of Tuesday, 65.4 percent of adults in the United States had received one or more doses of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots.

On Tuesday, the White House COVID response team conceded that the US government won't meet its goal of administering one or more doses of a COVID vaccine to 70 percent of US adults by July 4.

The death toll in the US from COVID-19 surpassed 600,000 people last Tuesday.

In late February, the US became the first country to surpass a half-million coronavirus deaths. That it has taken more than three months to reach 600,000 deaths is a testament to the slowing pandemic, as it took just a month for the US to jump from 300,000 to 400,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The rate of severe illness and death has fallen dramatically as more and more people get vaccinated, but hundreds of people are still dying daily.

Despite this, the country is registering its fewest cases since the pandemic began, as a result of current levels of vaccination, people who have gained a degree of immunity from past infection, as well as seasonality associated with the virus.