Barnstable County employees may be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the future.
During a meeting of the Barnstable County Board of Regional Commissioners on Wednesday, September 29, all three commissioners expressed support for a potential policy that would require all county employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Chairman Ronald Bergstrom said that as more and more people are letting down their guard in terms of social distancing and masking and as people are getting back into holding in-person meetings, he feels that the best thing people can do is to get vaccinated.
He said that a lot is still unknown about the virus and suggested that it could linger in a person’s system even after they feel better, such as with herpes and shingles.
Citing other organizations that have imposed similar mandates, Mr. Bergstrom asked the other commissioners if they felt they should follow their lead.
Vice chairwoman Sheila Lyons said she felt that requiring the vaccination would be a good idea. She also acknowledged that some people would likely push back against such a mandate and claim that it is an attack on their freedoms.
“But it’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, and it’s the responsible thing to do,” she said of getting vaccinated.
Commissioner Mark Forest said he would be interested in at least seeing a draft of a vaccine policy.
“I’m particularly concerned about what happens if an employee says ‘no’ and what recourse could happen there,” he said.
Director of Health and Environment Sean O’Brien said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to come out with guidelines regarding vaccine mandates in the workplace.
He agreed that a proper policy would be the best way to address a potential mandate.
Currently, OSHA strongly recommends that people get vaccinated as a way to protect themselves from serious illness.
Mr. Bergstrom noted that the pandemic is a public health crisis the likes of which has not been dealt with in decades, resulting in the deaths of 700,000 people in the United States.
“I’m sorry if people’s feelings are hurt or if they have some philosophical disagreement with mandates,” he said.
Ms. Lyons said vaccine mandates are part of the historical American experience, citing George Washington’s requirement that soldiers in the Continental Army be inoculated against smallpox.
In 1777, inoculation meant gathering pus from the sores of an infected person. The pus was then put into contact with an open cut on a healthy person, causing that person to become infected with a mild case of the disease. This left them immune upon recovery.
Ms. Lyons said that the 18th-century method of inoculation was a bit scarier than today’s methods.
No vote was taken regarding the mandate, and the discussion is expected to resume at the next meeting on October 13.