DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Hospital employees who work for Duke Health and UNC Health have one week to either get the COVID vaccine or receive an exemption, or else they could lose their jobs.

Both Duke Health and UNC Health announced these vaccine mandates in late July.

Back in July 2021, 77 percent of Duke Health’s employees were vaccinated, but now 95 percent of its employees have either been vaccinated or received a religious or medical exemption.

UNC Health also went from a vaccination rate of 72 percent in July 2021 to 91.5 percent of its employees either getting the vaccine or getting approved for an exemption.

UNC Health officials said about 1,000 of its employees have been approved for a religious or medical exemption. Health officials said Tuesday that 2,200 employees have been vaccinated since the mandate was announced in July.

Kasie Barrett has worked for Duke Health for 17 years in human subject research protection.

Barrett said she had no plans to get the COVID vaccine and she couldn’t believe it when Duke Health announced the vaccine mandate in July.

Kasie Barrett has worked for Duke Health for 17 years in human subject research protection.

“What went through my mind is ‘what gives them the authority to mandate anything on another individual?'” Barrett said.

Barrett said she had concerns about getting the vaccine and she felt she had the right to make her own decision about it.

“We have a right to refuse a medical treatment,” Barrett said. “We just have a right to refuse, and that’s the end of the discussion.”

Barrett did apply for a religious exemption and was granted one.

While she won’t be losing her job next week, she said this mandate added a lot of stress.

“You have that looming over your head, you know this threat if you don’t submit, you’re going to get fired,” Barrett said.

Duke Health officials have not said whether the remaining 5 percent of employees who have not yet complied with the mandate will be fired on the Sept. 21 deadline.

UNC Health officials said the hospital won’t be letting any employees go next week on Tuesday.

The health system will instead allow any employees who are non-compliant as of Sept. 21 to enter a vaccine probationary period to provide them with a last chance to either receive the vaccine or get an exemption approved.

UNC officials said the following in a statement:

“We believe that requiring vaccines is in the best interest of public health and is essential for the safety of our patients, teammates and communities. UNC Health is grateful for the hard work and sacrifices of our heroic health workers during the pandemic. This vaccine requirement is designed to provide a critical layer of protection to everyone.”