Amherst health officials refrain from vaccine mandate

  • A view of Main Street in downtown Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/30/2021 11:46:50 PM

AMHERST — The Board of Health is not requiring patrons at businesses to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination and is instead continuing to focus on getting people inoculated.

At an emergency session Thursday, the board authorized Health Director Jennifer Brown to pursue certain measures if COVID-19 infections continue to rise, including putting capacity limits on gatherings.

But Chairwoman Nancy Gilbert said she was not ready to consider the concept of a vaccine passport, already being explored in Northampton.

“My thought is right now we don’t need that,” Gilbert said.

Though Amherst has 159 active COVID-19 cases, almost double the number just eight days ago, Gilbert said she wants to wait and learn where the numbers go in the coming days.

“I want to see more data before we move to that,” Gilbert said.

Board member Steve George agreed, adding he is worried about the impact of such action on restaurants, bars, gyms and other places, and that such a mandate should only be done in a serious health emergency.

“That would be a massive unfunded mandate on businesses,” George said.

Board member Lauren Mills said her concern is that with waning protection from the vaccines for some people, the vaccine mandate wouldn’t accomplish much for safety.

“A mandate to show a vaxx card, what does that really prove?” Mills said.

Gilbert said the health board would continue to promote the tools that have been used for the past year, including vaccination, mask wearing and testing. She cited a statistic that 94% of Amherst residents have received their vaccines.

“Here is Amherst we’ve done a very good job in getting our residents vaccinated,” Gilbert said.

In all three prongs of the strategy, Brown said she will try to improve Amherst’s response. Those will include bringing on more professionals to run clinics, and acquiring better masks and more rapid tests. She also wants to focus on supporting schools and reaching vulnerable populations. ‘That’s a top priority,” Brown said.

Like in Northampton earlier this week, those who spoke in public comment gave mostly negative feedback to the idea of a vaccine passport, including a manager at a downtown restaurant who noted the challenges in enforcing the town’s mask mandate. Many of those who participated, though, don’t live in Amherst, with critics including Swampscott activist Dianna Ploss, who is running as an independent for governor.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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