Dems, health workers protest opposition to vaccine mandates

OSWEGO — Local lawmakers and heath care providers came together Monday to voice their opposition to a county vote last month resisting state and federal vaccine requirements.

The Republican-led Oswego County Legislature in October voted to oppose the federal government’s plans to require businesses with more than 100 employees to require vaccination against COVID-19 or weekly testing before entering the workplace. 

The Republican dominated legislature voted 20 to 3, largely along partisan lines, to approve the opposition, with only three detractors; James Karasek, R-Granby, who chairs the county Health Committee, and Democratic legislators Tom Drumm, D-Oswego, and Marie Schadt, D-Minetto.

Democrats in the county Legislature and health care providers gathered at Constitution Park adjacent to the Oswego County Legislative Office Building to express their frustration on Monday. 

“These folks are eager to share their story and get their side out to the public,” Drumm told The Palladium-Times Monday leading up to the event.

According to a statement signed by nearly 40 regional health care providers attained by The Palladium-Times, the group said the symbolic vote “promotes politics at the expense of the health and safety of the community” and “undermines” health care workers’ progress.

“This is about the pandemic, not about politics,” Schadt said Monday about the resolution. “This is a time to come together and take care of people — it is simply the wrong message.”

Local health care provider Elaine Shaben said the resolution only compounds difficulties on exhausted medical professionals already working against the pandemic.

“This resolution only make our jobs to secure the health and safety of people in the county immeasurably more difficult,” she said. “The message we want to convey is that we need to work together and vaccination is that way to get control of this pandemic.”

Diane Plumadore echoed her thoughts, noting that as a career health care provider, she has never seen legislators not trained in public health “interfere with public health policy.” 

“It misses the whole point,” she said. “Individual freedom and choice is to the individual, but this is not about the individual, it is about what is best for the health and safety of us all.”

Per the resolution, the county Legislature “believes that medical treatment and preventative measures are an individual choice” and that “the government should have no role in mandating COVID-19 vaccinations.”

“The Oswego County Legislature believes its responsibility is to educate the public based on facts and that it is not the county’s, the state’s or the federal government’s responsibility to create mandates that force the general public to accept COVID-19 vaccinations against their will,” the resolution reads. “All individuals should have the freedom to assess the risk and make the best decision for themselves and their families including the right to determine they should receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Legislature Republicans earlier this year called the federal mandates an invasion of privacy and an affront to American freedom.

Previous commentary on the subject included a reading of the Declaration of Independence from Legislator Nathan Emmons, R-Oswego, who said the county Legislature has an obligation “to say no to any mandate that violates” the declaration or the U.S. Constitution.

Prior to the vote on the measure, Legislator Edward Gilson, R-Pulaski, said it was “very rewarding to belong to a governing body that still stands up for freedoms.” 

Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, in October pointed to impact of the state’s mandate on local and regional hospital staffing. 

Despite the Republican opposition to the vaccine mandates, the resolution also notes the county remains “committed to encouraging all citizens who make the individual choice to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus to do so.”