Amherst health officials refrain from vaccine mandate

Staff Writer
Monday, January 10, 2022

AMHERST — The Board of Health is not requiring patrons at businesses to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination and is instead continuing to focus on getting people inoculated.

At an emergency session on Dec. 30, the board authorized Health Director Jennifer Brown to pursue certain measures if COVID-19 infections continue to rise, including putting capacity limits on gatherings.

But Chairwoman Nancy Gilbert said she was not ready to consider the concept of a vaccine passport, already being explored in Northampton.

“My thought is right now we don’t need that,” Gilbert said.

Though Amherst has 159 active COVID-19 cases, almost double the number just eight days ago, Gilbert said she wants to wait and learn where the numbers go in the coming days.

“I want to see more data before we move to that,” Gilbert said.

Board member Steve George agreed, adding he is worried about the impact of such action on restaurants, bars, gyms and other places, and that such a mandate should only be done in a serious health emergency.

“That would be a massive unfunded mandate on businesses,” George said.

Board member Lauren Mills said her concern is that with waning protection from the vaccines for some people, the vaccine mandate wouldn’t accomplish much for safety.

“A mandate to show a vax card, what does that really prove?” Mills said.

Gilbert said the health board would continue to promote the tools that have been used for the past year, including vaccination, mask wearing and testing. She cited a statistic that 94% of Amherst residents have been vaccinated.

As in Northampton earlier last week, those who spoke in public comment gave mostly negative feedback to the idea of a vaccine passport, including a manager at a downtown restaurant who noted the challenges in enforcing the town’s mask mandate. Many of those who participated, though, don’t live in Amherst, with critics including Swampscott activist Dianna Ploss.