Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith on Tuesday proposed a resolution in anticipation of future COVID-19 vaccine requirements in Oregon, requesting state officials "immediately reevaluate" the terms of any mandates they intend to implement.
After reviewing the resolution draft, county commissioners opted to revisit the issue at Thursday's business meeting due to disagreements over clarity and intent.
In the resolution, originally drafted by Smith and county staff on Sept. 16, Smith reasons that potential state mandates of COVID-19 vaccinations could have a "detrimental impact on the delivery of health care, education, public safety and emergency services" within the county.
She adds that these mandates could potentially spur a "loss of employment and income" if workers refuse to comply, which in turn could result in "another state shutdown" if critical service providers are understaffed.
Smith's resolution suggests four alternatives to a potential vaccine mandate, including an "extension of the deadline to be fully vaccinated," conducting "regular COVID testing," increasing recognition of "natural immunity" and recognition of "effective, proven technologies in the workplace."
Commissioners Paul Savas, Martha Schrader and Mark Shull all agreed that if the proposal were revised for clarity, they may be willing to approve it. Commissioner Sonya Fischer, however, said she prefers not to move forward with the resolution at all, instead suggesting the board continue with their work as the public health authority and revisiting the idea of a resolution regarding vaccine mandates in the event that mandates prove detrimental to county residents.
Both Savas and Schrader took issue with the suggestion to recognize "natural immunity," reasoning that there is no clear definition of the term included in the text. Both commissioners also suggested including information that residents are afforded religious and medical exemptions for federal vaccines.
"Recognition of natural immunity is something I would strike because, again, there's variants out there and you could get one form of COVID and have a recurrent," Schrader said.
"I don't know how we put meaning behind natural immunity," Savas said. "It's too vague beyond my comfort level."
"I think it's valuable to identify what all the options currently are on the state side, which is a religious exemption, and medical exemption," he added. "Anyone who picks this up and reads it ought to be informed. But whatever we do, I want to make sure it's constructive and we're all working towards the goal of beating this virus. That's what it should be about."
Smith responded that specifying possible exemptions was a good idea, but said she "strongly" believes in the concept of natural immunity, adding that it has "always proven to be an effective deterrent against viruses and diseases" throughout human history and to ignore that would be to ignore "Einstein himself."
Shull said he agreed with Savas' suggestions, adding that he would like a a more in-depth description of the potential for workforce loss.
"I understand that this draft resolution is a composite of five people's ideas and I respect that," Shull said. "I would like to have seen a stronger language regarding the, 'termination of employment,' part of this latest mandate."
Fischer said her main concern was that the language of the resolution would suggest to the public that the intention is to get some people out of having to take the vaccine.
"My overall big concern, if you look at this level, is that our job is to do the best we can at the local level to stop the spread of the virus," Fischer began. "And the overarching message of this resolution is, what can we do to help some people not be vaccinated? And that concerns me, I do not think that is a message that this board needs to even insinuate at all."
Smith disputed Fischer's analysis, explaining that she intended the resolution to recognize workforce issues she believed were not being adequately addressed and that she is not making a statement explicitly against vaccines themselves.
"I think this resolution recognizes that our issues within our workforce that have been ignored, that we have not addressed, that the state of Oregon has not addressed, that our governor has not addressed and that our legislature has not addressed," Smith said.
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