Northampton health officials end vaccine passport debate

  • Northampton City Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2022 8:56:40 PM
Modified: 1/18/2022 8:55:35 PM

NORTHAMPTON — City health officials have no plans to implement a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for customers and employees of indoor businesses, putting to rest the controversial idea that drew hundreds of public comments over the course of several weeks.

Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary said in a statement that the issue of a so-called vaccine passport for everyone 5 and older is dead for now, citing a lack of scientific evidence that it would significantly hinder transmission of the coronavirus’ omicron variant.

“The Board of Health will not be discussing vaccine requirements at future meetings unless data suggests that such a requirement would be necessary or beneficial,” O’Leary wrote. “Breakthrough infections and transmission are occurring in vaccinated individuals, but data clearly demonstrates that vaccines continue to offer protection against initial infection, severe illness, hospitalization, and death.”

The latest COVID-19 statistics released by the Northampton Health Department cover the two-week period from Dec. 30 to Jan. 12. During that time, there were 792 new COVID-19 cases in the city, accounting for 27% of all cases since the start of the pandemic. Case counts do not include the results of at-home antigen tests.

At the upcoming Board of Health virtual meeting on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., the board “will discuss other short-term public health measures that may help reduce community transmission of COVID-19,” according to O’Leary.

Also on Thursday, the City Council plans to hold its first reading of a resolution opposing antisemitism in direct response to comments made by some members of the public at the Dec. 28 Board of Health meeting. One man criticized the board as “unelected, rich, Jewish doctors” while another asked members if they planned to put unvaccinated people into “camps”; a third person used swastikas as their Zoom profile picture.

“The City Council of Northampton, Massachusetts calls on all local public officials, residents, and visitors to stand in solidarity with our Jewish family, friends, neighbors, and community members and condemn and denounce antisemitism in any form,” the draft resolution reads. “We commend (city health officials) on their tireless dedication and leadership during the challenge of a global pandemic.”

As part of O’Leary’s written statement, Public Health Nurse Vivian Franklin said that mask quality is a critical factor in preventing spread of COVID-19, urging the use of KN95, KF94 or N95 masks, or two surgical masks, in public settings.

“Any mask is better than no mask, but cloth masks offer variable protection against transmission when used on their own,” Franklin wrote. “They offer better protection when layered with a surgical mask. It is also crucial that if you are feeling sick, you should stay home and seek testing.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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