Last Wednesday, County Commissioners approved a vaccination incentive of $500 for all county employees who provide proof of vaccination by October 31.
Commissioner Claire Hall said about a dozen constituents contacted her against it and her vote in favor was with mixed feelings.
“Essentially, people are saying, Why do we have to incentivize something that people should be doing anyway?” Hall said. “And why aren’t we doing all that we can to make sure that members of the public who end up interacting with county staff are protected from the virus.”
Hall said she was also troubled by taking this route rather than a more proactive route. Commissioner Kaety Jacobson questioned if Hall meant being proactive by making vaccines mandatory. Hall referenced the Governor mandating vaccines for all employees of the executive branch and Multnomah County also requiring employees to be vaccinated.
“I know there’s a lot of pushback over concerns that it can impact employee morale, that it could lead to termination of good employees, and I’ve seen coverage that the employee unions are pushing back on these requirements, but what people are saying to me is essentially, if these jurisdictions can do it, why can’t we,” she said.
Jacobson noted that some of the public comments that were opposed to the bonus weren’t based on ideas that were true, as in a comment that the vaccine was experimental. But she noted that the money will not take away from county services or programs as it is from American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
“We still have incentive money to try to incentivize the public to get vaccinated, and there’s been questions on what the best incentive for the public would be,” Jacobson said. “We’re always up to hear those ideas.”
Jacobson said that she understands people might be upset, but they have also received many positive comments from employees. She said it’s one thing to make vaccinations mandatory, but it’s another thing to actually implement it.
“In general, I’d rather try the carrot than go right to the hammer,” Jacobson said.
Commissioner Chair Doug Hunt said that while it’s being called a vaccine incentive, he sees it a little differently.
“I think it’s a reward for the truly extraordinary work that, in particular, health and human services employees are doing countywide. They’ve been going 120 percent for 20 months or longer,” Hunt said. “All this is saying is we would reward, any employee that has gone above and beyond, doing their normal job responsibilities for an extended period of time.”
Hunt also commented on the idea of mandatory vaccines. He said that he believed it would more likely created a decline in services they are already struggling to provide. His concern was that some people would quit rather than get a vaccine.
The commissioners also approved a temporary 80 hours of paid leave for any employee who is required to quarantine, has symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis or are caring for someone who meets those criteria.