At-large hopefuls weigh-in on 'vaccine proof' idea

Should Boston officials follow New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s lead on a phased-in mandate that requires people eating, working, and seeking entertainment in indoor spaces to prove that they’ve been vaccinated against covid-19?

The so-called “Key to NYC Pass,”will launch this month, with enforcement kicking in sometime in September.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey has come under fire from mayoral rivals after appearing to balk at New York’s move and comparing requiring the proof to slavery and birtherism.

We asked the at-large city council hopefuls to share their stances. A preliminary election for City Council will be held on Sept. 14 to trim the current field of 17 at-large candidates down to eight finalists, who will face off on Nov. 2 for four slots.

Here’s what the candidates had to say.

Councillor Julia Mejia, the Boston City Council’s first Afro-Latina member, said the city needs to “be leading with safety and public health,” but did not say explicitly whether Boston should pass a similar mandate.

“There are people across Boston who are afraid because they want to get vaccinated but cannot because they are immuno-compromised,” she said in a statement to the Reporter.

“At the same time, we have people in our city who are hesitant to get vaccinated because of deep-rooted fears about the way public health has been prejudiced against them, we need to lead with all of these people in mind, and focus on making sure everyone who can get vaccinated receives a vaccine, working to break the stigma that so many people are experiencing.”

Ruthzee Louijeune, a lawyer from Mattapan, told the Reporter she would support enacting a mandate.

“Especially as we see infection rates rise and with the threat of the delta variant, I would support implementing a mandate similar to that of NYC,” she said.

“That being said, we must also continue to work to ensure the vaccine is accessible,” she added. “Regardless of where someone lives, they should be able to readily access a vaccine site.”

Jon Spillane, an attorney and former employee of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND,) said a similar mandate should only be used as a “last resort.”

“Our small business community was devastated last year. We cannot survive another shut down. Our focus should be on vaccinating our remaining populations, particularly vulnerable communities,” he told the Reporter.

“I think requiring proof of vaccination like NYC should be considered as a last resort to encourage more people to get vaccinated - something that is safe, effective, and backed by science.”

Alex Gray, a former adviser to Gov. Deval Patrick and policy analyst in City Hall who hopes to become Boston’s first blind elected official, did not support putting a vaccine proof mandate in place.

“While I respect his decision, we know New York and Boston are two very different places. In Boston, I think we need to focus on incentivizing more people to get vaccinated," he told the Reporter.

"We need to think about how best to educate those who haven’t been vaccinated and give them access in an easier, safer way. We need to continue to monitor how the Delta variant is spreading and keep all options on the table.”

Said Abdikarim, a citywide candidate who immigrated to Boston from Somalia 27 years ago, stressed the importance of incentivizing Bostonians to get vaccinated, but said that New York is "a completely different city" than Boston.

"I am in support of working with public health officials and our city leaders to make sure that we find the best solution for the City of Boston," he said, adding, "I'm very sensitive to small businesses-- they have to be at the table. If they come to an agreement with public health officials and the city that it's okay to mandate this, then yes, I support it. But it needs to be a collaborative effort."

James "Reggie" Colimon, a Haitian-American who served as a City Council liaison for former Mayor Martin Walsh, told the Reporter that he's in favor of a mandate that would require diners and others at indoor venues to show proof of vaccination or a negative covid test.

"I support mandating people to take the vaccine(s) or show proof of a negative covid-19 test to be allowed to go to restaurants, and other indoor activities. We have to listen to science," said Colimon.

"If you are like me and hate wearing a mask, get vaccinated. I signed up to take the vaccines the minute they became available. We have to listen to the experts. The more people that get vaccinated, the fewer who will needlessly die."

David Halbert, a Dorchester resident and former aide in Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration said "a vaccination requirement for public employees, as well as for access to public buildings or events, is a necessary and common sense step Boston should take due to the very real threat of the delta variant."

"I would consider supporting a vaccination requirement for individuals to attend large-scale events if we continue to see infection rates climb. Everyone's priority should be ensuring the vaccine is promoted, incentivized, and accessible in every neighborhood," he added.

Kelly Bates, a lawyer and nonprofit and crisis management leader running for an at-large council seat, said she "would be open to our city implementing a similar policy to New York City"but thinks Bostonians should "learn from NYC’s initial implementation first."

"Early data suggest that it’s contributing to an increase in vaccination rates. However, questions still remain as to how it is implemented and enforced in practice to achieve compliance," Bates said in a statement.

"We should take a strong look at initiating this program. Vaccines work, and we need to do everything we can to keep our communities safe and to continue down the path of creating a better and more equitable normal in Boston."

-This is a developing story.-

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