By Guy Page
On August 25, both Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine said they were open but not committed to mandatory vaccination for Covid-19. They took a ‘wait and see’ approach. Would the vaccine be safe? Effective? As Gov. Scott said: “details do matter.”
Since then, neither official has spoken publicly about making the Covid-19 vaccination mandatory. A Health Dept. spokesperson said today, “there has been no discussion of making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory by the state.” At this Friday’s press conference, Vermont Daily plans to ask them for an update on any consideration mandatory vaccination.
The following developments of possible relevance to their eventual decision have taken place since August 25:
#1 – New vaccines effective, Levine says. The three vaccines scheduled to reach the market soon are believed to be highly effective, Levine said at yesterday’s press conference.
#2 – Vermont Health Dept. plan doesn’t explicitly ensure voluntary vaccination – unlike NY’s plan. Levine issued a Covid-19 vaccine release plan October 21. It makes no mention of mandatory vaccination – one way or the other. Unaddressed, the option is left open. By contrast, the lead bullet point on an Oct. 18 New York State release plan declares the plan is “Intended to Ensure a Safe & Effective COVID-19 Vaccine Is Administered to All New York Residents Who Want One.”
Perhaps in response to the NY plan, the New York Bar Association has recommended mandatory Covid-19 vaccination. The Vermont Bar Administration has remained silent. However, Vermont gubernatorial candidate and lawyer John Klar earlier denounced the NY bar proposal, saying the disease’s relatively benign footprint (compared to, say, Ebola) doesn’t reach the constitutional threshhold empowering the executive branch to force vaccination.
#3 – No change in state law on exceptions to compulsory vaccination for children. On August 25, the Legislature was still in session and could have theoretically acted on H238 to remove the religious exemption for parents to not immunize pre-school children for standard immunizations. However, H238 died when the session ended.
August 25 comments on mandatory vaccination – In their August 25, 2020 press conference, both Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine said their endorsement of Covid-19 mandatory vaccination for would depend on likely outcomes, such as safety and effectiveness.
On August 25, Vermont Daily asked: “The Virginia Commissioner of Health last week said when a Covid vaccine becomes available, he plans to make vaccination mandatory. Even though his Governor’s office has now walked that comment back a bit, Commissioner Levine, can you tell us if you will recommend mandatory vaccination, and if so why? Governor, you’ve said you lean heavily on the Commissioner’s recommendations, what are your thoughts about making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory?”
In response, Gov. Scott exercised his gubernatorial prerogative to answer first. “If we could magically go back about six months, and I could tell you we have a safe and effective vaccine to prevent the destruction of the world economy and 180,000 deaths [nationwide], I would bet that most people would say, ‘give me some of that,’” Scott said. “So from my standpoint, I lean heavily on trying to make sure that if there is [a safe, effective vaccine] that we would do so. But details do matter. There are some exceptions that would have to be made, no doubt, but the more people that take the vaccine, the better.”
When asked to characterize his answer as supporting mandatory vaccination but with exceptions, Gov. Scott demurred: “I can’t say I would want to make something mandatory” without knowing about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. But he repeated, “this is about our livelihood, about our loss of life.” He again cited, with emphasis, the 32,000 New Yorkers and 180,000 Americans dead from Covid-19.
Commissioner Levine answered: “I do know the commissioner from Virginia, and I have a lot of respect for him.” Covid-19 vaccine research “progress has been at an astounding pace. The prime consideration, if we were to make something mandatory, is what the outcomes would be like,” for example, “how many deaths that could be prevented. And we already know how contagious it is, and how much care we have to take to prevent it.”
Levine said he would want to know about a vaccine’s “safety profile…..I can tolerate any vaccine giving some discomfort at an injection site, or causing a low grade fever.” More serious side effects “usually occur very rarely,” but “you want to have a handle on that.” And the trials must have enough people enrolled, he said.
The health commissioner added, “I’m with the governor, this is a serious enough illness, and not just because it is impacting the economy and our ability to do everything the way we used to do it,” but because lives are at stake.
“I can’t give you a definitive answer just yet,” Levine concluded. “But stay tuned.”
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