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Clarence Fanto: When it comes to the idea of a vaccine passport, public input can be a double-edged sword

Hand holiding a vaccine card

A Tri-Town Health Boards discussion this week about possibly requiring proof of vaccination to dine at restaurants included a healthy serving of misinformation and rhetoric invoking Nazis.

LENOX — During the Tri-Town Health Boards’ virtual public forum Wednesday on whether it might be worth considering vaccine passport guidance for indoor dining at Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge restaurants, the anger, factual misrepresentations and invocations of the Holocaust voiced by some members of the public was on full display.

Clearly, the passport idea is off the table. First presented informally at a board meeting last month by Dr. Charles Wohl, a Lenox resident who retired from a practice in Pittsfield, he deemed it a reasonable notion since variations on the mandate theme are in place in Boston, New York City, California and other locales.

But, restaurant owners, town officials, and chamber of commerce leaders presented their case for why the mandate would be impractical, unenforceable and unnecessary.

As Dr. Charles Kenny, who chairs the Tri-Town Health Boards, told me on Thursday: “Other board members and I had met with restaurant groups from Lenox and Stockbridge, select board members, and health care system leadership, and also had discussed and researched the idea extensively before the meeting. We also had had considerable public input prior to the meeting.”

But, sadly, “A lot of the public pushback at the meeting, although earnest, was illogical and misinformed,” he pointed out.

Tri-Town Health’s Executive Director Jim Wilusz offered this thought via e-mail: “One thing that got really confusing to the public is the fact that Tri-Town’s boards actually didn’t have an actual proposal on the table at all nor were they getting ready to put in a mandate.

“We received 50-plus emails from people thinking we were going to take a vote to implement it. Our goal was to bring people together to talk about the idea. We are also committed to really digging deep to see what the new normal will look like as we will need to live with COVID for quite some time.”

My problem with the Wednesday forum is with members of the public who promoted conspiracy theories, misinformation and comparisons to the Holocaust during their allotted 3-minutes at the virtual podium.

Here are some examples:

• “Anyone who complies with such an order is forging the chains of his children and grandchildren,” said Frederick Gillette, of Hinsdale. “Tyranny is built plank by plank. The Nazis didn’t just show up one day with railcars to start loading Jews in. It started with multiple small infringements, Jews were not allowed to sit on public park benches and they complied all the way up to the ‘final solution.’ ”

• Pittsfield resident Micah Mortali, who works in Stockbridge, warned against “people having to show their papers in exchange for participating in society. It crosses a frightening line. We’ll have to become a profit center for Big Pharma for an endless series of experimental injections. There are no long-term safety studies of these products.”

• Asserting that “there’s no scientific basis” for a vaccine passport requirement, Anastasia Blaisdell argued that the effect would amount to “segregation and discrimination. That really scares me, we have worked a lot in this country to get rid of segregation and discrimination, to get to the place we’re at right now, which is fairly good. It’s a dangerous road we’re going down, and Nazi Germany didn’t show up doing Nazi Germany overnight. It’s one little step, then another little step, and it goes on and on.”

• Here’s Noah Lauzon of Pittsfield: “After this whole lockdown situation globally, I will never be voting for anybody who’s sitting in office at the national or state level again. Not a single person we voted into our government offered to give up their pay when they were locking down the entire economy, and I thought that was very, very shameful, and I feel similar about local board members. I was raised Jewish, I had relatives and friends who showed tattoos on their arms, I’ve grown up in this history and I will never show a passport.”

• Lev Natan, who said he’s not vaccinated, offered this: “I also am of the Jewish heritage, and right when this started with the vaccines, I thought about Nazi Germany, I thought about yellow stars on your shirt. This is the beginning right now, you have to show a card and then at some point they’ll put it on our arm and then there’s a digital chip that’s being talked about.”

Others offered different objections to the idea of a vaccine passport.

•  “The board should understand they do not have the authority to put these mandates on the people, there will be recourse, people will push back, the town of Lee does not need any more litigation,” said Andrew Wiley, a Lee resident. “We cannot discriminate against the people who have natural immunity. There are people getting sick from the vaccine.”

• “This idea of passports is people taking our power to take care of ourselves because you think that we cannot do that. That’s not true, we do know how to take care of ourselves,” Carol Gillette, of New Marlborough, asserted. “This would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

One commenter described the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as profit-driven in the business of vaccine sales, “a privately held corporation with shares in the Big Pharma companies and it does not hold any medical authority through any government institution.” Actually, the CDC is a U.S. federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services.

The mainstream media was described as “70 percent funded by Big Pharma.” That’s an absurd and false claim.

Tri-Town’s commitment to hold a public discussion was praiseworthy. Some commenters made valid, reasonable points. But it’s a shame that others distorted the truth, and history, to promote their cause.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.

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