Board of Health Motion Approves Letter to School Committee Recommending Staff Vaccinations; Same Motion for Municipal Employees Fails

The Board of Health this week approved a “strong recommendation” to the School Committee to require Covid-19 vaccination for all staff.

But a similar proposal for municipal workers failed to receive a majority of votes.

Member Maureen Richichi was the lead advocate for the letters, which were initially discussed at an earlier meeting. “My objective is to keep students in school,” said Richichi, a former school nurse in Lincoln. “From my research, experts are saying one of the best ways to decrease transmission is to have all the adults around the kids vaccinated.”

Bea Brunkhorst agreed. “I don’t see the harm here. It is a recommendation. It’s advice.” Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services, added, “Advice from those elected by the community to look at the public’s health.”

Susan Schwartz was also behind the recommendation, although she indicated some hesitancy with the word “mandate.” Schwartz emphasized that a letter from the Board of Health is not a requirement, and “it’s ultimately a School Committee decision. We are recommending to do whatever is necessary to increase the vaccination rate.” Porter commented, “If it’s anything less than a mandate you will not get full compliance.”

Member Ann Kiessling, who had previously noted her objection to the word “mandate,” questioned the value of the policy because there are so many breakthrough cases in the town. “I think it’s a medical decision.,” she said. “Mandatory is not in keeping with the level of diseases in our community.”

“I think a pandemic calls for some strong statements from us and guidance,” said Richichi. The vote was 3-1; member Anita Raj was not present.

However, the vote to send a similar letter to the Select Board failed; the count was 2-2. Schwartz was the difference.

Richichi said fire and police personnel often interact with people in their homes, and “our residents need the assurance that our first responders are vaccinated.” Although a “clerk behind Plexiglass” is a different risk level, it still represents community modeling. Porter said the percentage of vaccinated fire and police is very high.

“We are the board in town that advises on health issues,” said Richichi. “We should recommend that they do whatever they need to do.”

Schwartz struggled with the proposal. Unlike municipal employees, “Some teachers are working with a population that cannot get vaccinated,” she observed. Porter pointed out that her staff interacts with the elderly and young people in recreation programs. Health inspectors, assessors, and others also engage in private homes, she added.

Kiessling commented, “One of the things we learned is vaccination does not keep you from being infected.” Cases have declined since the vaccines arrived, she said, but only by 50 percent.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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