UCLA Health employee organizes protest against healthcare worker vaccine mandate
Over 20 people gathered in front of the Regency Bruin Theatre on Thursday evening with signs protesting the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The protest, organized by a UCLA Health physician, drew criticism from passersbys. (Courtesy of Victoria Li/Daily Bruin)
By Victoria Ke Li and Sydney Kovach
Oct. 23, 2021 3:26 p.m.
This post was updated Oct. 24 at 10:59 p.m.
Dozens of individuals gathered at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to protest vaccine mandates Thursday evening.
Dr. Christopher Rake, an anesthesiologist at UCLA Health, organized the event – which was originally described as a candlelight vigil according to flyers posted online.
Rake, who was recorded at an anti-vaccination rally in August, said he was put on unpaid administrative leave in October because he did not comply with the state’s public health order requiring health care workers to be fully vaccinated.
[Related: UCLA physician prompts criticism following appearance at anti-vaccination rally]
The group gathered with signs at a side courtyard of the hospital at around 7:10 p.m., and Rake gave a short speech before they made their way to the front of the building, circling the complex several times.
The group was protesting what it saw as an infringement on its personal freedoms, Rake said.
Individuals carried signs that read “Coercion is not consent,” “My rights don’t end where your fear begins” and “Nothing warrants the removal of medical freedom,” among other phrases. A few protesters and their signs compared the vaccine mandate to medical experimentation during World War II.
At around 7:35 p.m., the protesters began walking down Westwood Plaza into Westwood Village before stopping in front of the Regency Bruin Theatre on the corner of Broxton and Weyburn avenues.
“Wake up, UCLA!” protesters shouted.
One car circled the block multiple times, honking in solidarity with protesters.
Maria Potochnik, a nurse walking by the protest, said she thought the protesters were focused on individual rights and liberties, but she thinks people should perceive vaccines as a way to protect the health and safety of the community.
“It’s for the general health of the community, it’s not just for yourself,” Potochnik said. “We do other things to take care of the rest of society, so why should we not (get vaccinated)?”
Sophia Potochnik, a third-year political science student and Maria Potochnik’s daughter, said she supports vaccine mandates because she believes the vaccine is safe and effective in preventing the spread of the virus and COVID-19 deaths.
“It’s crazy we’re watching so many people die of this disease needlessly,” Maria Potochnik said. “It’s just ridiculous.”
Joey Li, a medical student at the UCLA-Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program walking by the protest, said he was surprised that people around UCLA do not believe the vaccine is beneficial.
“I’m a little bit surprised and I think disappointed that there are people in a community that I think is pretty well-off and well-educated that are still, frankly, anti-science and (do not have) trust in the medical community,” he added.
Li said he understands that some people have valid fears about getting the COVID-19 vaccine for legitimate medical reasons, but the protesters’ reasons were not comparable. He added that he believed the protesters were manipulating public health measures for political reasons.
Rake said the event was intended to bring together people across the political spectrum, regardless of vaccination status.
Li added that he was disheartened to hear that the event was organized by a UCLA Health employee.
“It’s disappointing that there are physicians in the UCLA Health community who are, in my opinion, not seeing the bigger picture of protecting public health and believing evidence-based medicine,” Li said.