General Hospital has decided not to continue its relationship with longtime cast member Steve Burton (Jason Morgan). Though the ABC soap has not commented on the actor's status, Burton confirmed his exit Tuesday afternoon in a video statement on Instagram.
In the statement, Burton claims that he applied for medical and religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate, but both were denied by the network.
Burton states, "I know there's been a lot of rumors and speculations about me, and General Hospital and I wanted you hear it from me personally. Unfortunately, General Hospital has let me go because of the vaccine mandate. I did apply for my medical and religious exemptions and both of those were denied, which you know hurts. But this is also about personal freedom to me, I don't think anybody should lose their livelihood over this."
Rumors of Burton's potential exit began in August, after he tested positive for COVID and disclosed that he had contracted the virus at work. Around the same time, Emmy-winning GH actress Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis Davis) sent out a tweet that urged SAG-AFTRA to address the issue of working "on a set with unmasked, unvaccinated actors." Many fans jumped to the conclusion that Burton was one of the unvaccinated actors Grahn was calling out in her tweet, though he had not (and still has not) revealed anything about his vaccine status.
At the time of publishing this article, SAG-AFTRA, the union representing approximately 160,000 film and television actors, journalists, recording artists, and other media professionals worldwide, does not have a national policy on vaccine requirements. Instead, the decision for vaccine mandates is left up to individual producers.
ABC has declined to comment on its vaccine policy - and has also declined to confirm if there is, in fact, a vaccine mandate in place. According to a Twitter post made by Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis Davis), General Hospital's vaccine policy went into effect on November 1, 2021.
.@GeneralHospital still remains ONLY Daytime Serial to mandate vaccines. Kudos to the leadership of @valentinifrank @ABCNetwork & @DisneyStudios. Smart leaders listen to science & protect their employees. As of Nov 1st entry to #gh requires proper vaccine card. No exceptions. https://t.co/Yak3qonX3x— Nancy Lee Grahn (@NancyLeeGrahn) November 4, 2021
Burton is the second actor that General Hospital has had to let go due to disagreements about the soap's vaccine mandate. Ingo Rademacher (ex-Jasper "Jax" Jacks) was also reportedly fired for not complying with the show's vaccine policy, news that broke in early November after weeks of rumblings about the actor's status with the soap. Rademacher has hinted that he will be making a statement, but so far, the actor has said nothing about his GH status.
Neither GH nor ABC has confirmed or issued comments about Rademacher's status, Burton's status, or, as previously mentioned, the show's vaccine policy. This may be due to SAG-AFTRA's Return to Work rules surrounding vaccine issues. The agreement, which is posted on the SAG-AFTRA website, states, "Producers that wish to implement mandatory vaccination policies are encouraged to make and announce that decision as soon as possible" so that actors have time to get vaccinated in order to comply with the mandate. The website also states that the Return To Work Agreement "does not empower employees to refuse to work with unvaccinated individuals." Additionally, producers are only permitted to share an individual's vaccination status "to those with a need to know."
It is presumably SAG-AFTRA's need-to-know policy that has kept GH and ABC from commenting on GH's COVID vaccination policy and the statuses of Burton and Rademacher.
Meanwhile, General Hospital fans may want to prepare for more COVID vaccine-related exits. In a September Twitter exchange with Law and Order: SVU showrunner Warren Light, Grahn revealed that "several more he's and she's" from GH "chose not to be vaccinated. Only one [Rademacher] said it aloud."
Burton says that he is grateful for his time at GH. "I love it there; I grew up there. I grew up with some of you. So, I'll always be grateful and I believe that when one door closes multiple doors open. It's always my perspective." He is also hopeful that he will be able to return to the show someday. "I am excited to see what the future brings and maybe one day if these mandates are lifted, I can return and finish my career as Jason Morgan, that would be an honor. And if not, I'm gonna take this amazing experience move forward and be forever grateful."
He also took a moment to share his appreciation of GH fans. "I gotta say that I am forever grateful for your love and your support over the years, it means so much to me so thank you."
Steve Burton took on the role of GH's Jason Morgan (then Jason Quartermaine) in 1991 and played the role until 2012. He then hopped over to The Young and the Restless, where he played the role of Dylan McAvoy from 2013 to 2017. Burton returned to GH in 2017.
It is unclear if GH plans to recast the role of Jason or keep the character off the canvas for the time being. Rumor has it the soap opera may be considering One Life to Live alum Trevor St. John (ex-Todd Manning/ex-Victor Lord Jr.) to take over the role, but nothing has been confirmed at this time.
What do you think about Steve Burton's decision not to comply with General Hospital's COVID-19 vaccine mandate and the show's decision to let him go? Would you be open to the idea of a Jason recast? Why or why not? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.