El Paso County Board of Health passes symbolic resolution backing COVID-19 vaccinations as cases fall | News
The El Paso County Board of Health passed a symbolic resolution supporting voluntary COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday, a move some supporters said should have occurred earlier in the pandemic and opponents feared would clear the way for local vaccine mandates.
The revised document, in part, states the board “hereby finds the COVID-19 vaccines are a critical prevention strategy to protect the health and well-being of El Paso County communities and to reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”
By a 5-2 vote the board passed the resolution, essentially a statement of opinion, a month after the board agreed to table a similar resolution following several hours of fervent opposition.
Board of Health members Dr. Richard Vu, Kari Kilroy, Doris Ralston, Ted Collas and President Dr. James Terbush voted to pass the resolution, with El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez and Colorado Springs Councilman Dave Donelson opposed. El Paso County Commissioner Cami Bremer, also a Board of Health member, was absent.
On Wednesday dozens of residents gave hours of testimony, with about a dozen speakers — many of them doctors or nurses — saying they favored the resolution and supported vaccinations as the best preventative measure against the novel disease.
But most of the people who spoke Wednesday opposed the resolution, many harshly criticizing the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and calling on the board to again postpone voting on the resolution or do away with it altogether.
People who were opposed echoed concerns they shared last month that the resolution was one-sided and didn’t consider alternative health measures, including regular exercise and a healthy diet, nor the use of treatments like monoclonal antibodies to curb severe illness and hospitalizations.
But Terbush said the resolution was simply a statement of support for voluntary COVID-19 inoculations.
“It is not about alternative or complementary therapies, although some may prove helpful,” he said. “It is not about interfering with that primary relationship between a patient and their physician. … It is not about having a healthy lifestyle, a good diet, plenty of exercise, et. cetera.”
Donelson said he believed the resolution would encourage community distrust of county Public Health rather than encourage people to receive the vaccine.
Those opposed again voiced fears the resolution would pave the way for the county to enact vaccine mandates locally.
The board assured residents the document does not impose a mandate, adding the Board of Health and the Board of El Paso County Commissioners have not and will not support mandates.
A motion Donelson made to include an explicit statement in the document that the board does not support mandates failed. Collas, who opposes vaccine mandates, said he voted against Donelson’s motion because that stance is implied by the resolution’s use of the phrase “voluntary COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Sixty-nine percent of El Paso County’s eligible population has been inoculated with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 62% are fully vaccinated, El Paso County data show. The county previously reached their goal to inoculate 70% of eligible residents, but those numbers fell when residents ages 5 to 11 were authorized to receive the vaccine, said Fadi Youkhana, an epidemiologist for El Paso County Public Health.
More than 100,000 residents have also received booster shots, he said.
El Paso County’s rate of infection per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period has consistently declined since it peaked Nov. 10 at about 434 infections per 100,000 people over one week — the highest incidence rate in the county all year, Youkhana said.
Data as of Tuesday show there are 260.9 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.
The county experienced a decline in cases during the week of Thanksgiving, typically associated with a data lag, Youkhana said. But, he added, the falling number of cases was “an encouraging trend which indicates a decreasing pattern.”
Still, the number of daily cases in El Paso County has risen since the holiday, though not to the level prior to Thanksgiving, he said.
Hospital census also remains strained, limiting procedures and surgeries for adults. As of Tuesday, there were 188 patients in local hospitals with COVID or suspected of having it, county data show.
Data from the last 90 days show in El Paso County three out of every four people with COVID are unvaccinated; four of every five people admitted to the hospital with COVID are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated; and four out of every five people who die of COVID are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, Youkhana said.
Residents opposed to the resolution on Wednesday further argued vaccines weren’t an effective tool against COVID-19 because vaccinated people can still become infected and spread the disease.
El Paso County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Leon Kelly, speaking previously during the meeting, said while no vaccine is 100% effective, they limit the risk of infection, hospitalization and death.
“Nothing is foolproof. Nothing … is about preventing every single death,” Kelly said. “It’s about limiting risk, about making a good choice for yourself that limits the amount of death. … You can do everything right and still die from this.”
Because both natural immunity and immunity provided by vaccines eventually wanes, it’s important residents continue mitigating their risk of catching and spreading COVID-19, he said.
“Your best option — not guarantee — is to prime your immune system in preparation for eventually what’s coming,” Kelly said.