City residents were subjected to weeks of political posturing when Fort Wayne City Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, forced separate votes on a measure decrying so-called vaccine passports.
A nonbinding resolution introduced by Arp in June would have positioned the council against anyone needing to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. It failed at meetings June 22 and July 13 but drew the support of most Republican council members. Democrats Michelle Chambers, at large; Glynn Hines, at large; Sharon Tucker, 6th; and Geoff Paddock, 5th, each voted no at both meetings.
“I oppose vaccine passports,” Russ Jehl, R-2nd, said at the time. “I also oppose the politicization of the pandemic, which is why I will not add my vote.”
He was the only council member not to vote on the divisive resolution.
Vaccine politicization is back, though, in the form of a letter sent last week to Democratic Mayor Tom Henry, who has promised a $200 incentive for city workers who prove they are vaccinated. Authors Jehl; Arp; Paul Ensley, R-1st; Tom Freistroffer, R-at large; and Tom Didier, R-3rd – a candidate for mayor – don't see it that way, but they are mistaken.
The letter accuses Henry of “injecting partisan politics into this debate” and focuses largely on money. The Republican council members are upset they weren't consulted on where money for the $200 bonuses will come from.
It will come from the city's Group Health Insurance Fund, a source that doesn't require council to sign off on spending, Henry spokesman John Perlich told The Journal Gazette's Devan Filchak.
Absent the funding question, the letter – published on these pages Saturday – is a mishmash of statements lamenting the effects of the pandemic, supporting individuals' rights to make their own health choices and outlining worries that the mayor's incentives will lead to a vaccine mandate. Such requirements by cities and counties are prohibited by state law, under legislation passed this year by Indiana lawmakers and signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb.
“During these difficult times, few issues are more polarizing than forced vaccinations,” the Republicans wrote.
There is no mandate, and nothing is being forced. City employees still can make their own decisions.
If they prove they're vaccinated, it means a $200 bonus. If not, no bonus.
Allen County – where Republicans control most elected offices – also is offering a $200 vaccination bonus to its workers, telling them in an emailed announcement last week that, “Everyone age 12 and older is recommended to get a COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves and others from (the disease).”
Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to be killed by COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and vaccinations are effective in keeping those who get them out of the hospital.
Only about 55% of those eligible in Allen County are vaccinated, state data shows, and the vaccination rate is as low as 26% in at least one portion of the county.
It's clear more should be done, and we agree with GOP council members who wrote that “it is our responsibility to work together.”
That includes encouraging – and possibly incentivizing, in some form – vaccinations. Henry and Republican county commissioners think it's a good idea, and so do we.