MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. - In Maryland, there is now a lawsuit calling for a halt to the Montgomery County Public School employee COVID-19 vaccine requirement, which comes as frustration grows to a separate county employee mandate bill introduced on Tuesday.
"Frankly in my mind, it’s just political nonsense," said County Executive Marc Elrich responding to the proposed county employee vaccine mandate during Wednesday’s regular COVID-19 virtual briefing. Elrich said he is not against vaccine mandates, but would not want to implement the county’s employee mandate if it meant people could be killed because an ambulance could not get to an emergency on time.
A county employee vaccine mandate bill was introduced the day before by Councilmembers Hans Reimer and Will Jawando.
If passed, the bill could put county employees on a path to termination if they still refused the COVID-19 vaccine.
A good chunk of them are said to be first responders: around 17% of county employees have still not reported their status yet and county data says around 6% or 570 people are currently reporting as "unvaccinated."
Dr. Earl Stoddard said public safety shortages is an issue the county has been dealing with since before the pandemic.
"It’s already been a problem. We’re already doing force-holds within our fire department it’s basically means we’re forcibly holding people into additional shifts to cover for gaps already," he said.
Elrich said no one from the council reached out to inquire about their departments before introducing the bill. The county executive said they are now assessing the various departments to see what kind of a hit the county would be in a position to take if the mandate were to actually move forward. Elrich also said he would be willing to move forward if a "small" percentage of employees remained unvaccinated.
"It’s about the safety of our workers. If you are someone – if you’re a librarian, if you’re a transportation worker, if you’re police or a firefighter, you shouldn’t have to question whether the person next to you has been vaccinated – that you’re sitting next to, working next to every day," said Councilmember Will Jawando defending the proposed county employee mandate. He said residents should also not have to wonder whether first responders are vaccinated as well.
Jawando said the bill follows the federal mandate introduced for government workers and does allow a medical exemption if approved. This could include the 90-days the CDC says someone should wait to get vaccinated if they’ve received certain treatment. However, Jawando said building antibodies is not enough since the CDC does still recommended people who’ve contracted COVID be vaccinated.
In recent days, several star basketball players spoke about why they are still not vaccinated, including D.C.’s own Bradley Beal. Some of the players pointed to already contracting COVID and breakthrough cases as reasons for why they do not feel they need to be vaccinated.
"It’s unfortunate. I mean think, look, the nature of being young is to feel invincible," said Jawando responding to the Beal and other players who are still not vaccinated, "and if you’re like a super-star athlete, you know I played college basketball and I remember kind-of being, feeling like I was invincible 20 years ago, but -- so I understand why people might not feel like they need it. But there’s a lot of misinformation out there. There’s also a lot of history, particularly with the Black community and if you’re talking about basketball and football players where a large percent are African America, and so I think that’s all in of mixed-up. But what the science shows us is that the spread of the virus is continuing in the unvaccinated."
On the public safety concern, Jawando responded, "Look we’ve been adjusting for 18 months, moving people around, adjusting people, maybe we have to bring a class up if it was that bad in the case of the fire department or something – but we will make sure there’s coverage of the community. But one thing that’s unacceptable is to say because of that threat, because of that calling of the bluff, that we’re going to ignore public safety – public health guidance."
Elrich believes they should be able to have the assessment completed by October 19, which is when a first public hearing on the employee vaccine mandate bill will be held.
Thursday is the deadline for the separate MCPS employee vaccine mandate. MCPS employees will have to prove they’ve received at least one COVID19 vaccine shot.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday is seeking to stop the mandate. It only identifies the person suing as a "Christian" and a Montgomery County Schools worker in the administrate office. They person is suing over a religious objection – reportedly over the use of aborted fetal cells in the vaccines.
When asked about this in the regular COVID-19 weekly briefing, Dr. Stoddard spoke on how there are not aborted cells in the vaccines.
However research engines like the University of Nebraska Medical Center do say, "However, fetal cell lines – cells grown in a laboratory based on aborted fetal cells collected generations ago – were used in testing during research and development of the mRNA vaccines, and during production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine."
"Number one: all the vaccines use fetal tissue in their development so I’m not sure that objection will hold water with regard to the particular elements of it," said Dr. Stoddard. However he did say it is something they are paying attention to for the religious exemption portion of the lawsuit.
A legal battle lodged in New York for not including a religious exemption. The MCPS mandate does not have a religious exemption and neither does the county employee mandate bill.
On whether the MCPS employee mandate has made an impact, an MCPS Spokesperson would only confirm over 75% of some 24,000-25,000 MCPS employees are vaccinated. The spokesperson did not provide what percentage the school system was at when the mandate was announced.