CANTON – Opposition to COVID-19 vaccination warrants sparked a protest last Wednesday outside the Potsdam post office, where health workers in the north of the country resisted the state’s demand to to get vaccinated.
Similar sentiments crept into the county government on Monday night, when the St. Lawrence County Council of Legislators passed a resolution formally opposing federal, state and local vaccine mandates.
The resolution recalls how, on September 9, President Joseph R. Biden announced his intention to ask the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to devise a temporary emergency standard ordering companies to private sector with 100 or more employees to require them to be vaccinated against COVID-19, or to be tested for the virus on a weekly basis.
“Private sector employees are already overburdened with unnecessary regulations,” the resolution says. “There are already reports that staff in the medical field are leaving their chosen areas of employment rather than complying with a mandatory vaccination. “
The council maintains that “medical treatment and preventive measures are an individual choice,” according to the resolution.
“The government should have no role to play in obliging COVID-19 vaccination,” the resolution reads in part. “The Council of Legislators believes that it is its responsibility to educate the public on the basis of facts and that it is not the responsibility of the county, state or federal government to create mandates that force the general public to accept COVID-19 vaccinations against their will. “
It is also noted that those who wish to be vaccinated have this option and that the county has so far carried out a successful campaign to allow vaccination.
The resolution was passed 12-3, with Nicole A. Terminelli, D-Massena, Margaret G. Haggard, D-Potsdam and John H. Burke, R-Norfolk voting against.
Rita E. Curran, R-Massena, introduced the resolution. She expressed concern that the mandate would reduce the already strained population of healthcare workers in the north of the country.
“I’m not anti-vaccine, I just think we need to think about who is going to take care of our citizens, not just in our county but in our state,” Ms. Curran said.
Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, agrees: “You talk about forcing healthcare workers out of work,” he said.
In solidarity with his constituents, Anthony J. Arquiett said he supported the resolution.
“Personally, I am in favor of immunization,” said Arquiett. “But on behalf of the voters and the voices I have heard, I oppose a mandate.”
Separated from the federal trade mandate, New York’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers is still evolving.
On August 16, former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that all health workers in New York State should be vaccinated against COVID-19. The requirement applied to staff in all hospitals and long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and group care facilities.
Religious and medical exemptions were initially included in the ordinance, but religious exemptions were removed through emergency regulations approved by the state’s Public Health and Health Planning Board on August 26.
With the deadline to receive at least one dose by September 27, it is understood that if healthcare workers do not comply and do not have a recognized medical exemption, they will be removed from their duties.
Last week, a federal judge temporarily barred the state from forcing healthcare workers to get vaccinated after a group of 17 healthcare workers sued, claiming their constitutional rights had been violated due to the fact that the mandate had prohibited religious exemptions.
A member of the public spoke out against the mandate of healthcare workers at Monday’s meeting.
“It is forcing hundreds of healthcare workers to quit their jobs,” said Ben E. Hull. “Our community cannot afford to lose a single one of these healthcare workers; that’s why we call them essential workers.
Mr. Hull has been Director of the Center for Cancer Care at Canton-Potsdam Hospital for the past four years. He handed in his resignation letter earlier this month in direct response to the state’s health ministry removing religious exemptions from the tenure of healthcare workers.
“Any job that people decide to take on has certain requirements, and if you go into a certain industry as an employee, you know what the requirements are for that job,” Ms. Terminelli said. “And if you don’t like them, you don’t have to do this job.”
As an example, Ms Terminelli cited the requirements for school-aged children to obtain certain vaccines. In New York City, no religious exemptions are allowed for school vaccination requirements, only medical exemptions.
Ms Haggard voted against the resolution and argued that lawmakers should encourage their voters to get vaccinated.
“What impacts the care of individuals are all the unvaccinated people who arrive at the hospital with COVID and who are using resources,” Ms. Haggard said. “I am a vaccinated person. Much to the chagrin of some people here, I survived COVID, and maybe the only reason I survived is because I had this injection. “