The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Mississippi news anchor is off the air after refusing a coronavirus vaccine

(Jae C. Hong/AP)

Meggan Gray signed off her Thursday morning news show with a cryptic announcement.

From the desk of WLOX News in Biloxi, Miss., where she had co-anchored “Good Morning Mississippi” for 14 years, she said she “wanted to just take a little moment and let you know that I honestly do not know what the future holds for me as far as my career here.” The next day, she was off the show, and she took to Facebook to explain why: She lost her job after refusing to be vaccinated for the coronavirus as required by her station’s parent company, Gray Television.

“In my opinion, a forced decision to decide between a vaccination and the livelihood of an individual is a dangerous precedent,” wrote Gray, 40, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She added: “It hurts saying goodbye; it hurts parting on these terms. However, I know in my heart it is the right decision for me and my family.”

It was not clear whether she left the station or was fired.

The news anchor’s post said she had made “an informed and prayerful decision not to get the vaccine” before her company mandated it effective Oct. 1. She cited an earlier bout with covid-19 as her main motivation, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination regardless of prior infection because research has not determined how long that protection lasts.

Kevin P. Latek, Gray Television’s executive vice president and chief legal officer, told The Washington Post that the company does not comment on individual personnel matters. He shared a statement that said more than a thousand employees chose to receive a vaccine after the policy was announced. While most employees supported the rule, the statement continued, “we unfortunately have had to terminate the employment of a very small portion of our workforce.”

“We are grateful for these individuals’ contribution to our company, and we wish them well,” it said. “We have also informed them that they are welcome to re-apply for positions with Gray if they do decide in the future to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Two other well-known faces at Gray TV stations also chose leaving their jobs over getting the shots. Karl Bohnak, a 33-year meteorologist at Michigan’s WLUC, announced his firing last month, writing in a Facebook post: “I have authority over my body.” Linda Simmons, a 14-year reporter at Missouri’s KY3, cited religious objections to the vaccine and said she was “doing God’s will,” the Springfield News-Leader reported.

A TV meteorologist of 33 years declined the vaccine, citing personal freedoms. He was fired.

Such moves have occurred in recent months as more companies make the vaccines a condition of employment. Major employers such as Disney, Facebook, Google, United Airlines and Walmart announced coronavirus immunization requirements over the summer, when the highly contagious delta variant sent infections soaring. Then, in September, President Biden said he would require government workers and businesses with more than 100 employees to institute mandatory vaccinations or coronavirus testing protocols. (His order allows for medical and religious exemptions.)

Houston Methodist, one of the first health systems to require immunization, parted ways with 153 employees after a federal judge upheld its rule. Northwell Health, the largest health-care provider in New York state, dismissed about 1,400 workers. United Airlines said 320 people were facing termination after refusing to get vaccinated — a decline of more than half after some initial objectors chose to get the shots.

In each case, the number of people who resisted vaccination and lost their jobs made up a small percentage of the overall workforce. The majority of employees complied.

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Gray Television, an Atlanta-based broadcasting company with almost 150 network affiliates across the United States, announced its vaccine policy Aug. 16. All employees, contractors and visitors would have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, it said. In the announcement, the company noted that the “covid-19 public health crisis is getting worse in too many communities across the country,” and that the vaccines “are extremely effective in preventing serious illness and reducing the spread of the coronavirus.”

Managers and executives “UNANIMOUSLY concluded that the increasingly rapid spread of the coronavirus poses an unfair risk” to employees and their families, the statement said, with “an unfair risk” marked in bold.

Meggan Gray, a longtime presence at WLOX, took issue with the rule. A native of the Biloxi area, she started at the station as her first job in 2003, climbing from morning tape editor to the anchor seat, according to her biography on the WLOX website. She started her anchoring duties at 4:30 a.m. every weekday.

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In her post about rejecting the vaccine, which was reported by the Biloxi Sun Herald, Gray said she had “tried everything possible to keep my job, including offering to be tested on a weekly basis.” She said her choice was “personal” and based on “other, more powerful reasons” that she did not share, adding that she respected the decisions of others who got a vaccine. With her refusal, she wrote, “I may have lost my job, but I preserved my integrity.”

Nearly 500 comments had poured in as of Wednesday night, many of them supportive of Gray’s stance, some of them questioning the vaccines. With about 44 percent of Mississippians fully vaccinated, the state’s rate lags behind the nation’s, according to Washington Post tracking. Nationwide, the figure is about 56 percent.

Officials have repeatedly stressed that the vaccines are safe and effective, and CDC studies have found that the unvaccinated are more than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Gray was emotional in the final seconds of Thursday’s “Good Morning Mississippi,” after revealing that her future was uncertain. She said she wanted to thank viewers, while she had the chance, “for allowing me into your homes for the past several years. I’ve had a wonderful 18-year career here, and I’m grateful for every moment of it. Thank you so much.”

With that, the day’s edition of “Good Morning Mississippi” — and her time on it — came to a close.

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