By Guy Page
Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver’s announcement that he would require Covid-19 vaccinations for state residents once a vaccine is available has many Vermonters wondering: will the state of Vermont require mandatory vaccinations, too?
To date neither Gov. Phil Scott nor Health Commissioner Mark Levine has said much about the details of implementing Covid-19 vaccination in Vermont. However, both often point to a vaccine as the likeliest way to end the pandemic and the state of emergency. And both men are on record as supporting mandatory vaccination for other diseases.
Dr. Oliver reportedly told News 8 TV that as long as he is health commissioner, he will mandate the vaccine. Virginia state law allows mandatory immunization during a pandemic. “It is killing people now, we don’t have a treatment for it and if we develop a vaccine that can prevent it from spreading in the community we will save hundreds and hundreds of lives,” Oliver reportedly said.
At Gov. Scott’s press conference Tuesday, Vermont Daily intends to ask both him and Commissioner Levine if they would mandate Covid-19 vaccination, and if exceptions for religion, personal philosophy or any other reason would be permitted. Levine is on record for closing the religious exemption for mandatory childhood vaccination for measles. Like Oliver, Levine points to the deadly consequences of not fully vaccinating the U.S. population. Before Covid-19 struck, the Vermont Legislature also was considering closing the religious exemption (H.238, other bills).
Of course, one might expect the chief public health officer to take a hard line for mandatory vaccination. Our governor also is showing his zeal for vaccination in the Covid-19 era. Thursday, August 20, in a proclamation for August as Immunization Awareness Month, Scott said “Vermont is preparing for the arrival of a Covid-19 vaccine(s),” and, “Vermont evaluates its Immunization Information System, also known as an immunization registry, to determine if any necessary improvements are needed.”
An immunization registry is clearly a way to track who has been immunized. Is one of those “necessary improvements” tracking those Vermonters who have not been immunized? And if so, what will the state of Vermont do with that information? Will non-compliant Vermonters be told to get a shot or lose their jobs? Will unvaccinated children be allowed in school? Such a compulsory system already is in place. According to Covid-19 “Green and Gold” promise guidelines adopted for the fall semester at UVM, all students must get season flu shots. Failure to comply can result in expulsion without reimbursement of tuition.
If Vermont requires Covid-19 vaccinations “or else,” officials may find Vermonters in opposition. An August Gallup poll shows a third of Americans say they won’t take the Covid-19 vaccine. Sure, it’s early yet and Vermonters may be more amenable to Covid-19 measures than other parts of the country. But still — “choice” has a strong resonance in Vermont. So does the medical concept of informed consent — even Commissioner Levine has spoken out strongly in favor of the concept, said Jennifer Stella, a leader in Health Choice Vermont.
Stella has a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and worked for over a decade in infectious disease diagnostics. She describes Health Choice Vermont as a “nonpartisan, volunteer citizen advocacy group which is pro-medical consent, pro-consumer information and pro-health.”
During the campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor, challenger Rebecca Holcombe repeatedly challenged frontrunner David Zuckerman for, she said, opposing mandatory vaccinations. He denied the charge but the issue simmered throughout the campaign. Conflict between Vermonters eager to do whatever it takes to end the State of Emergency and other Vermonters opposed to mandatory Covid-19 vaccination could reach a rolling boil, up to and past the Nov. 3 election.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports. Vermont Daily is sponsored by True North Media.