JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – Public speakers were evenly split but the room Monday night clearly favored a Washington County Commission resolution asking state and federal legislators to oppose vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 related requirements on private employers.
The “ayes” had it when voting time came as commissioners approved the resolution, which is largely symbolic, to enthusiastic cheers from more than two dozen citizens who had sat through other parts of the meeting waiting for the decision.
Commissioner Robbie Tester made a successful amendment to the resolution, which added language urging state and federal lawmakers serving Washington County to also oppose the mandate.
“I believe it is our goal as local representatives and our Tennessee elected officials as well to stand in the gap for our citizens and do our best to protect them from such power grabs,” Tester said.
The vote was 14-1 in favor of the resolution, with Commissioner Jodi Jones casting the only “no” vote.
“I find it discouraging to see this particular resolution coming from a committee that’s designed to protect the health and well-being of our citizens,” Jones said.
Commissioners had heard impassioned arguments both for and against the resolution during public comment at the beginning of the meeting.
Proponents spoke of constitutional rights and freedom, of what they saw as overreach by the federal government and made claims about the vaccine itself — including one local doctor who claimed the vaccine has led to thousands of deaths in the U.S.
“Vaccine mandates, whether imposed by governments, corporations or any other entities, are unethical, illegal and have no place in a free society,” Diana Leonard said in favor of the resolution during public comment.
People opposing the resolution spoke of their opinion that the community couldn’t reach a sufficient level of immunity without vaccine mandates mentioned the toll it’s taken in lives.
“I love freedom, but when one person’s personal freedom impinges on someone else’s health, that is a problem,” Dr. Ryan Tewell said in support of vaccine mandates.
Another mentioned that the U.S. Supreme Court has twice upheld vaccine mandates and said the pandemic has exacted an economic cost as well.
Anti-mandate residents and commissioners came to a head during the vote when Commissioner Ken Huffine, who voted for the resolution, called on Washington County residents to get vaccinated and suggested the federal mandate was put in place because of large unvaccinated populations.
“I implore you to consider taking a vaccination and most definitely take a flu shot,” Huffine said to boos and jeers from anti-mandate members of the crowd. “Our health care is already stressed enough.”
Commissioner Freddie Malone, who said he supports the vaccine but not a mandate, came to Huffine’s defense urging the audience for some “civility.”
Commissioners said the county would get the signed resolution to the Tennessee State Capitol by Wednesday so state lawmakers could act on it during the upcoming special session on COVID-19 mandates.