DC Council adopted a vaccination policy at their legislative meeting Tuesday, Oct. 5 which requires all new and current employees, including councilmembers, to be vaccinated by the end of October.
The only opposition came from Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White Sr. (D), who asked to go on record to note his opposition to a uniform policy. Noting that councilmembers have authority over their own staff, White said he objected to a policy that could lead to staff losing their jobs.
Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who introduced the bill, acknowledged that dismissal was a possible consequence, but said that there would be several steps before that would take place.
At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman said that the Council debate is a microcosm of larger societal debate. Silverman said DC Council needs to acknowledge and listen to concerns, adding that she spoke with to White prior to the vote, but added that she is a strong supporter of this legislation and of vaccine mandates overall.
Silverman said that COVID highlights the interconnectedness between us all. “Many decisions I make have no effect on anyone else,” she said. “The decision to get vaccinated has economic and health concerns for everyone in our city and beyond.”
White said he is fully vaccinated, even pulling his vaccine card out to demonstrate. Still, he said he doesn’t think the government should mandate what people do with their bodies, and pointed to what he said are an increasing number of cases where people apply for exceptions and are denied.
On Aug. 10, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) mandated that all District employees be vaccinated by Sept. 19. On Sept. 20, she announced that all adults working in schools will also be required to be vaccinated by Nov. 1.
According to District officials, 72 percent of District government workers were vaccinated by late September with 87 percent reporting. DC City Administer Kevin Donahue told a Sept. 20th press converence 475 religious exemptions have been received from government employees, 419 from DC Fire and Emergency Medical Personnel. They have received fewer than ten requests for exemptions for medical reasons, he added. Those requests were under consideration at the time of the press conference.
White was the only councilmember to vote against the bill. He called for more dialogue, including both perspective from doctors and those affected by vaccine.
“We should not be using our power to mandate what people put in their bodies, and I think that’s what we’re doing here,” White said. ”Free will is part of the American culture, and even God won’t make you do anything —he gives you the freedom of choice. And we are disregarding that by this resolution,” White said.