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Politics

Vocal Minority Of Bethel City Workers Ask For Extension On Vaccine Mandate

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Olivia Ebertz
/
KYUK

During the Sept. 14 Bethel City Council meeting, several city employees spoke against the city’s new mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for city workers, and dozens of their colleagues showed up to support them. 

  

The mandate, signed by Bethel City Manager Pete Williams, is slated to go into effect on Sept. 27. All city employees have until then to get their first dose of the vaccine. According to Williams, the city has 105 employees and 17 of them are unvaccinated.  

Bethel City Employee union member Corbin Ford was one of about 30 community members who attended the meeting. He predicts that some city employees will lose their jobs because of this mandate. 

“You're losing approximately 50% of the Police Department and 15% of the total workforce for the city of Bethel,” said Ford. 

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Credit Olivia Ebertz / KYUK
Corbin Ford said he did about half an hour of internet searches and started to change his mind about the vaccine.

Ford said that his union only heard about the mandate the day prior, when the city’s human resources director sent out the email at the end of the work day. Ford said that members met that evening and scrambled to put together a response. Ford said that the union is advocating for the city manager to delay the mandate. 

He said that unvaccinated employees could become convinced to receive the vaccine if they had more time to learn about it. 

Ford said that he’s not vaccinated and he’s been on the fence about getting the vaccine. He said that the mandate inspired him to learn more about it. Ford said that he did about half an hour of internet searches and started to change his mind.

“I had done some soul searching and also done some just general research about the vaccine that actually, in that time period of 30 minutes or 45 minutes, I went from being what I would consider a hard no to a soft yes,” said Ford.  

Ford said that the city hasn’t provided enough medical guidance to employees before mandating vaccinations. 

City officials have been speaking about the vaccine for months in meetings, often urging residents to get vaccinated. Multiple Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation physicians have spoken in council meetings about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.  

The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for emergency use for over nine months, and finished its final course of FDA approval last month. Two other COVID-19 vaccines are also authorized under emergency use.

City council candidate Jess Schroeder supported the union’s request for more time to learn about the vaccine. Schroeder is a registered nurse with YKHC, but said she wasn’t there as a representative of the organization. 

“I will never, ever say ‘just get the vaccine.’ I will always say make an educated decision,” said Schroeder. 

Schroeder also added that it’s important to get the vaccine because it "affects more than just you." 

Another city council candidate, Jared Karr, also addressed the council during the meeting. He said that most employees haven’t had time to learn about the vaccine.

“Most people go about their lives clocking in, clocking out, taking care of their families. They're not on the internet researching left and right,” said Karr. 

Despite that claim, over 80% of city employees have chosen to get vaccinated.

The CDC estimates that unvaccinated individuals are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than vaccinated individuals. The CDC also said the unvaccinated are also five times more likely to get COVID-19, and therefore that much more likely to spread it. 

YKHC Director of Infection Control Dr. Elizabeth Bates called in to the meeting from the YKHC Emergency department to speak to the efficacy of the vaccine and precariousness of the state’s health care system.

“It’s clear that the increase in hospitalizations and stress on our health care infrastructure is driven by unvaccinated individuals. We are struggling to find ICU beds for every patient, not just COVID patients,” said Bates, who urged everyone eligible to get vaccinated. 

Because the vaccine mandate was not a council agenda item, the council could not take any action on the issue. The agendas are produced five days in advance of the meeting. This allows the public time to be alerted to upcoming agenda items and participate in the meeting.

Chief of Police Richard Simmons said he hopes that the city manager will take more time to consider the concerns of the city employees before the city loses half of its police officers.