By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A draft COVID-19 vaccination policy for Chatham-Kent council and those who serve voluntarily on committees and local boards will return to council Oct. 4.
Citing the fact that elected officials need to “lead by example,” North Kent. Coun. Joe Faas put a motion forward Monday, asking administration to prepare a report for council’s approval.
Faas, chair of the Chatham-Kent Board of Health, has stated he believes COVID-19 vaccinations should be mandatory.
The motion calls for council and volunteers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or proof of a medical exemption.
Faas’ motion received strong support from West Kent Coun. Melissa Harrigan.
She reminded council that Chatham-Kent is among the worst in terms of number of COVID-19 cases per capita in Ontario and one of the lowest vaccination rates.
Harrigan said mandatory vaccinations are not being imposed on people, as it remains a “personal choice.”
However, she said volunteers deserve to be protected from the virus as well.
Harrigan, who works in health care, said individual “rights end where others begin.”
She went on to say vaccinations are the way out of the pandemic, adding everyone is tired of dealing with COVID-19.
“I think we’re all sick of it,” Harrigan said. “We don’t want to be here.”
But other members of council are not in support of mandatory vaccinations even though they are vaccinated themselves.
Chatham Coun. Amy Finn and East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault both said they couldn’t support the motion.
Pinsonneault said getting vaccinated should be a choice, adding the municipality could lose good volunteers by imposing vaccine mandates.
“I can’t support forcing anybody to get vaccinated,” Pinsonneault told council. “In my opinion this should remain a choice.”
Council learned the vaccine policy for the municipality’s 2,000-plus employees is separate from the policy for council and volunteer committee members.
The policy for council and volunteers will only affect between 50 to 75 people.
Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman requested staff provide council with details of the municipality’s vaccine policy for staff, adding it would make sense to have all the information when making a decision.
South Kent Coun. Anthony Ceccacci questioned why a “blanket approach” wasn’t taken in dealing with the all of the groups associated with the municipality.
According to Cathy Hoffman, general manager of corporate services, the vaccine policy for employees was unveiled last week, allowing staff to review it before the final implementation.
Hoffman there will be similarities in both policies, but there are also “subtle differences.”
The policy regarding vaccines for council and volunteers will not come into play until face-to-face meetings return.