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Somerville health panel rejects indoor business vaccine mandate

People walk past the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square in Somerville on Nov. 2, 2019.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Somerville’s Board of Health voted 2-1 this week to reject a proposed COVID-19 vaccination requirement for indoor businesses such as restaurants, gyms, clubs, and theaters.

“I don’t feel like I’m ready to sign on to this mandate for this virus at this time,” said Dr. Brian Green, chair of the health board, during the panel’s meeting prior to the vote Thursday night. “Because what we know about Omicron is that this is not going to have any effect of decreasing transmissibility in the restaurants and gyms.”

Green suggested he could support such a mandate under different circumstances.

“I think this is a really good policy for [an outbreak of] Delta,” he said. “And it’s a really good policy for a community that doesn’t have the kinds of vaccination rates that we already have.” According to the latest city data, 80.4 percent of Somerville residents are fully vaccinated. The city’s positivity rate is 13.23 percent over the past 14 days.

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Omicron doesn’t meet the criteria that would make a vaccine mandate effective, he said.

Green said he had wanted to pass the proposed mandate with “half” of his heart.

“And with the other half of my heart, I just keep thinking, is this the way to gain trust,” to convince more people to get vaccinated? Green said.

The lone member of the board to vote for the proposed mandate was Robert Ciccia.

“Our position is, is this reasonable, right?” Ciccia said before the vote. “It’s not, is it perfect? Is it going to solve everything? Because the answer to those two are no. But is it reasonable? I think yeah, it is reasonable.”

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne said in a statement that the health board meeting highlighted the critical importance of vaccines in battling the pandemic.

“The important takeaway from last night’s hearing is that the Board and the City are in agreement that vaccination is critical to getting this virus under control,” Ballantyne said. “The question for us is which tools do we use to advance that goal. Naturally, we were hoping the Board would support the proposed requirement, but I respect their decision and their thoughtful deliberation, so today we move on to the next effort.”

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Ballantyne added that the “focus now, as before, remains fully on using every strategy we have to take on the pandemic. Since day one in office, I’ve had staff doubling down to increase access to testing, masks, vaccines, information, and financial and health supports. This decision will not slow us down, it just adds fuel to our efforts to address the virus on every front.”

Other communities including Boston have recently adopted proof of vaccination requirements to enter certain indoor businesses.

The Boston mandate. which took effect Jan. 15, requires patrons of dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues to show proof of at least one shot, a requirement that will increase to proof of two shots starting Feb. 15 for those age 12 and over.

Starting March 1, children ages 5 to 11 will have to show proof of at least one shot to get into the Boston businesses, and they’ll need proof of full vaccination by May 1. People are considered fully vaccinated once they get two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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Boosters after full vaccination are recommended by public health specialists but not currently required for entering the Boston businesses specified in the vaccine mandate.

“This is a response that is rooted in science and public health,” Mayor Michelle Wu said last month in announcing the indoor business mandate and a strengthened vaccination mandate for city workers.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.