RICHMOND — Amid a growing public clamor for a vaccination mandate covering people who work for the town, the Select Board has deferred a decision for two weeks so it can determine how nearby towns are handling those directives.
“We have deferred on vaccination because it is a highly sensitive, highly politicized issue,” Chairman Neal Pilson explained after several residents decried the delay.
Appearing before the selectmen, Board of Health Chairman Andrew Fisher reported unanimous agreement among his members for a vaccination policy applying to employees.
“Many towns, municipalities and government bodies are doing this all over the country right now,” he said. “This is probably the most important single step we can take to end this pandemic. There’s no other way to do it.”
Town Counsel Elizabeth Goodman urged the Select Board to clarify who would be covered by the mandate, since some town committees gather only occasionally or as needed, while others meet only remotely.
Fisher suggested that the policy should apply to “people who provide a service to the town at some level,” no matter how infrequently they might meet.
But, Pilson listed multiple categories of people serving the town, including Fire Department volunteers, EMTs and volunteer members of various boards that meet only via Zoom.
“Requiring people to vaccinate when they do not have any in-person contact with any other member of a committee or a council may be pushing the envelope too far,” he commented.
Pilson urged a review of policies in adjoining towns, and proposed that members of boards and councils that meet only occasionally could provide negative COVID test results instead of mandated vaccination.
Goodman pointed to a policy modeled on Gov. Charlie Baker’s definition of state employees covered by a vaccination requirement.
“You could say anyone who receives pay from the town of Richmond would come within this policy,” she stated. Exemptions could be granted to those with medical conditions unable to receive the vaccine and to people with “sincerely held religious beliefs,” she added.
Town Administrator Danielle Fillio proposed a potential town policy applying to employees paid regularly by the town so it would not include unpaid volunteers, consultants or vendors.
Thus, according to her suggestion, Fire Department personnel, including the chief, the animal control officer, cemetery superintendent and the summer season monitors at the Richmond Pond town beach, would be included, while unpaid volunteers would not.
Pilson, citing the need for information on what other nearby towns are doing, proposed putting off a decision for Richmond until the next Select Board meeting, Oct. 13. Selectmen Roger Manzolini and Alan Hanson agreed.
But, Pilson stated that an uptick in vaccination rates and a plateau of new COVID infections result from “very rigorous vaccination requirements imposed by corporations, businesses, sports events, schools and governments. The benefits are quite dramatic if we can reduce the number of children infected and reduce the overall number of cases.”
On Sept. 9, the Select Board endorsed the health board’s directives on mask-wearing and social distancing applied to public spaces and settings indoors and outdoors.
Manzolini called Board of Health recommendations on masking, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings “prudent and sound measures we should take,” but he voiced skepticism that a vaccination mandate for town employees would have any impact in Richmond.
“In fact, I think it would have a detrimental effect,” he added, although he doubted that any “key employees” would be lost.
He predicted likely “detrimental effects on the loss of key personnel” in hospitals, including nurses, because of federal and regional mandates.
Manzolini contended that “there are a lot of misunderstandings about this pandemic” and asserted that vaccinated people only protect themselves, not others.
“A vaccinated or unvaccinated person has about the same probability of transmitting the disease,” he claimed. “Mandates won’t have the effects that we wanted them to have.”