Updates, county policy discussed at Board of Health work session

RBC | During an afternoon work session Tuesday, Rio Blanco County commissioners and a newly appointed Board of Health member heard updates and discussed county policy with Public Health Director Alice Harvey.

As of Tuesday, 33.1% of the eligible population in RBC had received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Harvey said the vaccination rate reflected that of other counties with similar demographics, noting that she would like to see the number higher, and have the department push for further outreach and education efforts surrounding vaccines.

Newly appointed BOH member Jeffrey Prystupa, who is a chiropractor and alternative medicine practitioner, expressed his opposition to vaccinations, stating that “it doesn’t seem to provide really any benefit,” asserting an absence of data proving COVID vaccines to be effective. Prystupa also questioned the science behind newly developed mRNA vaccines, claiming that because mRNA vaccines “don’t contain the actual agent,” they can’t provide immunity.

The newly developed vaccines instruct cells to create COVID-19 antibodies using just a part of the COVID virus known as a “spike protein,” present on the outside of the COVID virus, giving it the distinct look we’ve all become familiar with over the last year. Conventional vaccines utilize weakened/dead but still whole versions of the viruses they are immunizing against, thus the difference.

Public Health director Alice Harvey noted that according to studies, the Moderna vaccine, (the type of mRNA vaccine deployed in RBC) is up to 90% effective at preventing infection and severe illness from COVID-19

Prystupa repeated claims that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine could void your life insurance policy. While these assertions have primarily been spread by anonymous accounts on sites like Twitter, Reddit and 4chan, more extensive investigations have revealed them to be incorrect, prompting noted life insurance providers to issue statements directly refuting them. Prystupa further emphasized his opposition to vaccinations later in the meeting, saying he had never received a vaccination of any kind, and claiming “I have never been sick in my life.”

Referring again to new COVID vaccines, Harvey reiterated, “The data is out there that does support the safety and effectiveness.” She also explained that even if you were to contract COVID after being vaccinated, the symptoms would likely be much less severe.

Anti-vaccination points shared Tuesday included another common question from those hesitant to get vaccinated. Prystupa asked why anyone should get the shot if they still need to wear a mask afterwards.

Harvey explained her own reason for wearing a mask, stating that even though she was fully vaccinated, there was still a chance to infect someone else unknowingly. “I’m doing it as a choice to protect any vulnerable individuals I might be around,” she said, reminding those present that mask wearing is still a personal choice, and that the Centers for Disease Control still encourage their use.

Prystupa pressed the issue further, indicating that he didn’t believe the virus was making people sick. “I look at this thing which is supposedly making people sick, and I see the healthy people staying healthy, and the sick people getting sicker,” he said, adding, “That’s kinda how it is, natural selection.” In response to Prystupa’s comments, Harvey noted that a number of RBC residents have been very ill and suffered serious side effects from COVID since the start of the pandemic.

RBC commissioner Ty Gates also contributed to the exchange, “Bottom line is, it’s everybody’s individual right,” he said, adding that no one is pushing people to make decisions about wearing masks or getting vaccinated.

Commissioner Gary Moyer noted that he appreciated the “diversity of opinions,” before moving the meeting forward.

During the meeting county staff and elected officials also discussed options for vaccine information outreach, including county-level data, statistics on efficacy, safety and more. Harvey pointed out that many of the noted stats could be found on the public health website at https://rbc.us/606/COVID-19-Updates.

The board revisited the discussion about the county’s position to not enforce state health mandates. Harvey also reiterated her understanding of the board’s non-enforcement stance, noting that her department has been clear in communicating the board’s policies from the outset.

“My job is to communicate, educate and protect people’s health. I’m not necessarily the vehicle for the political stance of Rio Blanco County, nor am I the appropriate vehicle.” In an effort to further separate the role of the public health department from the politics of the county board, Harvey requested some form of statement from the board that could be put online and in other relevant places along with public health information about vaccines, masks and COVID-19 generally.

The meeting resolved with commissioners and public health agreeing that despite a disconnect, the two groups had found a reasonable way to work together moving forward. “Really we don’t need that division between our own public health department and the board of commissioners,” said Commissioner Rector.

You can listen to the entire Board of Health meeting at https://soundcloud.com/ht1885/rbc-board-of-health-mtg-april-2

By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com