Misinformation was focus at January Board of Health meeting
Social Media rumors take up most of the public comment at virtual meeting.
January 20, 2022
OLYMPIA—The Washington State Board of Health (SBOH) received more than 7,500 public requests to speak at the January 12 meeting. Many comments were in reaction to misinformation that spread like wildfire on social media platforms leading up to the meeting.
Executive Director Michelle Davis made Board announcements. She reminded board members that many comments are objections to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, mask mandates, and the Technical Advisory Group (TAG).
In October 2021, the SBOH convened a technical advisory group (TAG) to assess the COVID-19 vaccine against the Board’s criteria and recommend whether to add it to the state’s list of required immunizations for school entry. Davis said meeting attendees would hear an update from the group, but no action would be taken.
“The board is not voting on this work today,” Davis said. “The exemption allowances that are listed in the state’s immunization laws will remain available for families and their children that choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. These exemptions include medical, religious, philosophical, and personal exemptions.”
Board Chair Keith Grellner said the board has not and is not considering isolation or quarantine camps for unvaccinated individuals or those who test positive for COVID-19. He also said the board would not be making decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirements for school-aged children. His statements responded to rumors and misinformation circulated on Facebook and other social media platforms.
“No consideration of isolation and quarantine camps. That was a false rumor,” Grellner said. “No action on mandating vaccines for school-aged children. Again, a false rumor. We are sorry if you were led to believe otherwise, but those items are not on the agenda today.”
Most public comments still expressed opposition to quarantine and a school-aged child vaccine mandate despite clarifications.
The TAG briefing was led by Board Vice-Chair Dr. Tom Pendergrass, who described the process the Board of Health must use before implementing a new requirement or law. He said the SBOH developed requirements for vaccines before they could be implemented in the school system in 2006. Those requirements were reviewed and updated in 2017.
Pendergrass said vaccines could not be mandated without an exemption process for families to opt-out. They also are not required if the vaccine is not accessible to families; there must not be any cost barriers to receiving the vaccine.
At the time of the meeting, the advisory-only group consisting of 18 members was coordinating schedules for more meetings. There were no recommendations as they continued work on the assessment.
Pendergrass ended the report by restating that it is a comprehensive process that must be completed before any new vaccines can be required.