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Anti-vaccine protesters leaving Neahwa Park in Oneonta on Friday, Sept. 17. (Kevin Limit/AllOtsego).

Protesters against vaccine mandate march to A.O. Fox Hospital in Oneonta

By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to

ONEONTA — Hundreds of protesters, along with Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, marched to A.O. Fox Hospital and through Main Street Friday, Sept. 17, to protest the vaccine mandate put in place for healthcare workers.

The protesters chanted slogans such as “stop the mandate” as they walked through downtown Oneonta towards the hospital. There were signs that said “unmask our children” and “protect our liberties.”

The vaccine mandate from Bassett Healthcare was in response to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mandate that all healthcare workers should be vaccinated.

Prior to the march, the protesters rallied at Damaschke Field.

“I’m here to support the medical professionals and support their right to not have an injection they’re not confident,” Salka told “Last year they were heroes, this year they’re zeroes.”

In a speech prior to the March, Salka said that healthcare workers were “being treated like garbage” and “second class citizens.” He also  derided medical advisor Anthony Fauci for “lying” about masks. Salka was possibly referring to when in the beginning of the pandemic, Fauci said people didn’t need to wear masks.

Assemblyman John Salka, right, stands with protesters listening to the national anthem prior to marching. (Kevin Limiti/

“I’m proud to walk with you up to Fox Hospital,” Salka said. “I want to thank everyone for being here today.”

Bernard Holoquist, who works at Bassett Hospital as an anesthesia tech, said that he was “praying I keep my job” because of the vaccine mandate.

The deadline for healthcare workers at Bassett to get the first shot of the vaccine in Sunday, Sept. 27.

“Eighteen months I was good enough for them,” Holoquist said.

Holoquist gave a speech where he said he believed his freedom was being taken from him.

“I believe our liberty is gone or it’s going to get even worse,” Holoquist said, who remarked that “the goal posts keep moving” in regards to the COVID virus.

“Wear a mask, we wore a mask. Take a shot, we take a shot,” Holoquist said.

Much of the rhetoric in the speeches were based on a reluctance of masks and vaccines and a general mistrust of the information being put out about the COVID response.

“They don’t do masks in Florida. They don’t do masks in South Carolina,” Holoquist said. “Why do we do masks? You have to wake up.”

Holoquist said that he lived a life like he didn’t care if he died.

“Why are you worried about the shot if you can give it and get it?” Holoquist said.

Gina Madeiros, who also works at Bassett Hospital as a supervisor, said she was there because of “medical freedom and choice.”

Madeiros emphasized that she wasn’t anti-vaccine but that she had the virus previously and believed her anti-bodies were enough.

Gina Madeiros, a supervisor at Bassett Hospital, stands with a sign near Damaschke Field. (Kevin Limiti/

“You don’t get the flu shot when you had the flu,” Madeiros said. “I watched patients die because they didn’t take medical advice and that’s their right. I should have that right also. I have until Sunday. … I’ve been poor my whole life. I finally got a career and now I have to choose. That’s not fair.”

According to the CDC, reinfections with COVID are rare but do occur. However, there is not much data yet on how common reinfections are, how severe or whether an individual is able to spread the virus if re-infected. Also unknown is how the Delta variant, which is more contagious, and other future variants will factor in to reinfections.

As they marched through downtown Oneonta to Fox Hospital and back to Damasckhe Field, there were many vocal supporters near by who honked their horns or showed support.

Not everyone was supportive though. Outside of the Roots Brewing Company, Lawrence Nienart put his thumb down and got into a mild verbal altercation with Holoquist, who was carrying an American flag.

“Don’t be a cry baby, take the shot,” Nienart said.

The protesters are supposed to march again in Cooperstown, with a rally planned for Tuesday, Sept. 21.

Anti-vaccine protesters in front of A.O. Fox Hospital in Oneonta. (Kevin Limiti/AllOtsego).









  1. I would not want an unvaccinated health worker to come anywhere near me, nor would I want to go into a hospital or assisted living facility that permitted unvaccinated staff members to work there. I’m afraid that they don’t “call the shots” as that one nurse wrote on her placard. You have a responsibility to keep your patients safe, and if you don’t want to accept that responsibility, then GET OUT OF THE PROFESSION; YOU DON’T BELONG THERE!!!
    Assemblyman Salka is being utterly and criminally irresponsible. He knows better but panders to these voters. Shame on him and on the Republican Party in general for their stance on these vaccination and mask issues.

  2. Kevin,
    Thank you so much for writing what you witnessed and not an opinion piece. I was disappointed to see The Daily Star’s hit job put out today as naming the participants in the rally as a “bunch of anit-vaxers”. If the fabricators of The Daily Star took the time to speak with anyone in that rally, they would have acknowledged many in attendance yesterday were vaccinated but still stood up, stood tall, for FREEDOM.

    I am also thankful to all of the heroes that came out to support one another and EVERYONE that still believes that our FREEDOMS are at great jeopardy. If I may take a liberty, I would like to say to Mr. Lawrence Nienart owner of Roots Brewing Company,, Oneonta, NY – first you will never see a dime of my business and second, when you find yourself in need of customers don’t be a cry baby.

    Thank you once again for your accurate “reporting” of this very important event. We don’t see true reporting much these days.

  3. To Mr Nienart I think you need to get a back bone and take a stand and stop being a sheep that are following all these unnecessary mandates. A mandate is not a law. You will never see me nor anyone that I know at your establishment again

  4. Kevin I’m a bit confused here. Your article states the Governor’s mandates states that all health care workers “should” be vaccinated. Is this true? Or does the mandate state that all healthcare workers “shall”be vaccinated? Would you please clear up this confusion.

  5. I would first like to thank the author for publishing this article without bias or opinion included. This group deserves to be HEARD. The horror stories our local Healthcare workers relay, these stories are the REAL NEWS. They are the portrayals of real life experiences…concerning real people…the reality of the serious situation we find ourselves in.

    The point of the rally – was also to show – this is much more than vaccine mandates – it is about FREEDOM. The people who were attendance, they were not all against the mandate, they were standing FOR CHOICE. They stood together. I am so proud of each and every one of them. Especially Bernard, who opened my eyes, with his story, how hard this is for each and every worker involved.

    Through all of the bad in the institutions they work for such as MIBH and its affiliates, St. Lukes, St. Elizabeth’s, etc…they were deemed essential, forced to work long, hard, sad, stressful hours…without a vaccine…and now are being told they will lose their jobs if they refuse??? It makes no sense!

    Our Healthcare workers, they are the heroes, they want to stay doing what they set their hearts to do, helping others, and they deserve to be treated with far more respect, treated with a negotiable plan…not mandates like termination if they do not comply.

  6. A ridiculous parade and no one should sacrifice a child to massage an ego. Get a shot and wear a mask and save a child. Bunch
    of half truths on his speech. I thought our caregivers were brighter than to be led down this path of divisive rhetoric.

  7. I find the signs carried by these protesters to be ironic, at the least. They say “Protect Our Liberties” and “Unmask Our Children,” but what about protecting our children, and protecting patients and co-workers? Is this just about the protesters and what they want to do, and about cynical and self-serving politicians who see a way to appeal to an alienated part of the population to grab more votes? Vaccinations protect the person receiving the vaccination, but also his/her vulnerable patients, colleagues, and community. COVID cases are spreading like wildfire among children who cannot yet be vaccinated and are probably being infected by those who refuse to get vaccinated because their rights to ignore science are more important than the common good. It is shocking that health care workers, of all people, should be so unconcerned with those who can be so endangered and harmed by their actions. Don’t these children and other vulnerable members of the community have the right to be protected? Protect their right to life and liberty!

  8. Over the course of my 35 year career as a physician assistant, mostly in Otsego county, I’ve overseen the administration of thousands of immunizations. I can recall only one potentially life-threatening reaction – which resolved with oral medicine and ER observation. These immunizations included, diptheria, pertussus, tetanus, influenza, hepatitis, shingles, measles, mumps, rubella AND more recently a few hundred covid vaccines. Most of these vaccines had been required for entrance to public schools. They were never to my knowledge refused as an issue of freedom. Almost everybody seemed to agree that keeping everyone well in our communities was a top priority. It’s now a political stance which is why the majority of hospitalizations and fatalities from covid-19 are in certain states where resistance to basic public health measures is rampant. Thousands of Americans are dying just like they did in 1918 from that pandemic. The only difference is that in 2021 it’s usually a choice.

  9. As the number of deaths FROM THE VACCINES rise and the number of people who are fully vaccinated rise, we need to stop forcing anyone to take this vaccine. One family lost a father and a daughter in four days FORM THE VACCIES. No one, President for Governor or anyone has the right to tell you to take something that can and HAS killed many.

  10. Sorry was going to say the number of deaths in fully vaccinated people is rising. It needs to be stopped and studied more before more die FROM the vaccine.

  11. I think “hundreds” is a bit of an exaggeration. Probably closer to 30. Ridiculous people, but I suppose it makes them feel good to exercise their right to protest.

  12. Salko is doing nothing but pandering to a group of persons too ignorant to read authoritative sources re the efficacy and safety the COVID vaccine. He should be ashamed of himself – and so should they. They aren’t acting for themselves – they are holding other persons hostage to their ignorance.

  13. Some of these comments didn’t age well.

    KUDOS to protestors who took a stand and did what was right. KUDOS especially to those protestors who LOST THEIR JOBS for refusing the very deadly injection. AND SHAME ON BASSETT for enforcing this immoral mandate.

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