To vaccinate or not vaccinate will no longer be a question for town employees as a new vaccine mandate, Resolution 2672, was enacted by council on Oct. 7.
Town of Friday Harbor Mayor Farhad Ghatan enthusiastically sides with the vaccine mandate. “For God’s sake,” he said toward the mandate opposition. “How could anyone argue against a vaccine?”
Town Administrator Duncan Wilson said the mandate only applies to town employees, volunteers, council members, and members of the town Historic Preservation Review Board. Volunteers include members of the Planning Commission, Arts Commission and Lodging Tax Commission. The mandate does not apply to grocery store workers, restaurant workers, marina workers, ferry contractors, or any other type of employee that may be located in town.
“The resolution clearly does not apply to community members, nor could it,” Wilson said, making a point of showing that the authority of the town council only goes so far.
The discussion of a mandate was brought about in an effort to ensure the safety of the community. Not all the council agreed, as it was passed at 2-2 leaving Ghatan to decide. The elements within this discourse include opinions siding with vaccinations ensuring the most safety, opinions that spectate whether the vaccines are safe or not, and opinions that worry about the constitutional validity of vaccine mandates.
Ghatan said he “sides with the science” which is what confidently persuaded him to pass the motion 3-2 breaking the tie with his opinion.
“I don’t listen to alternative news,” he said. “I listen to the mainstream news that has statistics and quotes from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. There’s just too much misinformation going around influencing people’s observations.”
Ghatan said the main information that he thinks is keeping people from getting vaccinated are reports of vaccine injuries.
“Where are those people who are supposedly getting sick from the vaccine?” Ghatan inquired. “People say, ‘Well the media isn’t going to share that with you.’ Who’s the media? Who is the entity that is hiding information from me? Why would they be organized to do that? For what purpose?” he said before bursting into laughter. “I just don’t dive into all these theories, you know. It’s just crazy conspiracy theory central.”
Council members on the “nay” side were Tim Daniels and Steve Hushebeck.
“I’m not anti-vax,” Hushebeck said. “In fact, I’ll be getting a booster. I think that everyone who can get a vaccine should. Good for them. But I don’t feel like it is in my authority to decide that for them.”
If town workers wish to not get a vaccine, Hushebeck said that is their own decision and that it feels right to protect that.
Ghatan said earlier in the meeting on Oct. 7 that community trumps individual rights, adding that unvaccinated people put others at risk.
According to the CDC, as of this month, 56.5% of Americans are fully vaccinated. Many more have received at least one dose. The age groups that are most heavily vaccinated are those who are 25 to 39 years old and 50 to 64 years old.
Also according to the CDC’s data, 61% of Caucasian Americans are vaccinated in a stark contrast to only 17.5% of the American Hispanic/Latinx population being vaccinated, 10% of the Black-American population are vaccinated, 3.1% of the Asian-American population is vaccinated, and just 0.9% of the Indigenous population is vaccinated.
If a town employee does not want to get vaccinated, there is currently no option to opt for weekly testing instead.
Barb Starr, a council member who was on the yay side of the meeting said, “The issue with weekly testing is that you know you would learn pretty quickly if someone has COVID. But at that point, that individual might also have infected other people. And so it doesn’t do the job of prevention, it does the job of helping to keep an existing infection from spreading more than it already has.”
Starr continued to say that leading up to a discussion about the mandate before the meeting, she prepared by doing research on the effectiveness of vaccines, about the range of infections, and the range of infections and deaths of people who had been vaccinated. All of that information helped to inform her decision, she said. After that, there was a second discussion where they listened to public input and San Juan County Public Health Officer Dr. Frank James came to speak.
These discussions did not come as a shock, Starr said, as the governor’s vaccine mandates caused them to prepare for their own discussion of mandates. Farhad was the first to bring up the idea.
“At a certain point if you get a certain percentage of the population who is really sick or dying, then that affects everything that affects national security, that affects the transportation of goods and services, and food that affects the ability to repair major infosystems infrastructure when it fails, like power outages or floods,” Starr said as she explained her support for the mandate. “It affects absolutely everything, and could take us down a deep spiral that would be very difficult to recover from.”
While some may worry that this mandate will cause more divide, Ghatan doesn’t think division is as much of a problem as one may think.
“The people who are defiant are exceptionally loud. The good people that accept these mandates are not,” he said. “There are so many people in favor of what we’re doing, we have broad support throughout the entire community. It’s what the majority believes.”