A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

Borough resolution opposes ‘COVID-19 vaccine segregation’

The legislation does not nullify COVID mandates instituted by the borough’s incorporated communities.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will consider legislation opposing “COVID-19 vaccine segregation” in the borough at their Tuesday night meeting.

The legislation is sponsored by Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and assembly members Jesse Bjorkman, Richard Derkevorkian and Bill Elam. If passed, it would formalize the borough’s lack of support for COVID mandates imposed by the government and declare the borough to be an “inclusive community where citizens are treated equally and empowered with free choice.”

“This resolution recognizes that citizens know what is best for their health and safety, the health and safety of their families, and through this resolution the borough assembly expresses its support for citizens’ free choice,” the legislation says.

It would also state the borough’s opposition to government mandates requiring proof of vaccination status for access to certain places, with a memo from sponsors saying such mandates “may segregate and divide our community based on vaccine status.”

Bjorkman said Monday that the legislation does not nullify COVID mandates instituted by the borough’s incorporated communities, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District or employers, but rather expresses an opinion about government mandates.

The assembly considered and approved similar legislation last year, which supported borough residents getting a COVID-19 vaccine “on a prioritized and optional basis.”

As a second-class borough, the Kenai Peninsula Borough does not have health or policing powers. That was reiterated in a letter sent to Alaska’s Acting Attorney General Ed Sniffen last year, which was signed by borough attorneys from Alaska’s second-class boroughs, including former KPB Attorney Colette Thompson.

“Second class boroughs do not have ‘police powers’ or general health and social services powers and cannot implement measures for the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens as your office suggests,” that letter said.

The letter also said that second-class boroughs are unable to order citizens to isolate or quarantine, place restrictions on business operations, require citizens to shelter in place, require citizens to wear masks or “similar health mandates.”

As of Monday, none of the borough’s incorporated communities have required COVID-19 vaccinations for residents, nor had the State of Alaska. Some businesses require employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including some with federal ties. Employees at Central Peninsula Hospital’s Heritage Place Skilled Nursing facility, for example, became required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 following an executive order signed by President Joe Biden.

Four public comments had already been submitted on the legislation on Monday.

“Please pass this!!” wrote Anastasia Scheele, who commented in support of the legislation.

“It is not the political parties job to decide what we citizens do with our bodies concerning medical care,” wrote Jayme Millett.

Lynda Paquette submitted comments in opposition to the resolution, which she called “ill-conceived” and “highly misguided.”

“We are amidst a health emergency and crisis that has only worsened because of similar thoughts to this legislation,” wrote Lynda Paquette. “This legislation appears to encourage a blatant disregard for our neighbors and community with a “you can’t make me” approach.”

The legislation comes amid stagnant COVID-19 vaccination rates and growing case numbers on the Kenai Peninsula.

COVID-19 vaccines have been lauded by national, state and local health officials as both safe and efficacious. As of Aug. 10, unvaccinated people accounted for 94% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations and 96% of all COVID-19 deaths in Alaska, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“Although we have seen cases of vaccine breakthrough infections where persons who were fully vaccinated were infected with COVID-19, we have ample evidence proving that the vaccines are safe and effective,” that correspondence from DHSS said. “Vaccines decrease the chance you get COVID-19, become severely ill from COVID, and reduce the risk of death.”

As of Monday, about four in five COVID-19 patients at Central Peninsula Hospital— about 83%— were unvaccinated. The hospital was treating 18 patients with COVID-19, including three who were in the ICU and two who were on ventilators. Of those 18 patients, three were fully vaccinated and 15 were unvaccinated.

More information about COVID-19 vaccines can be found at dhss.alaska.gov. Tuesday’s assembly meeting is open to the public and can also be streamed live.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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