Wareham Schools ‘initiating dialogue’ with staff about possible covid-19 vaccine mandate

Aug 27, 2021

Vaccines were the topic of the evening during the School Committee’s Aug. 26 meeting. 

One issue proved particularly controversial — even prompting four protestors to hold signs outside Town Hall along Route 6 just before the meeting began: The idea that the district might make covid-19 vaccines mandatory for school staff. 

Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood said the district “will be initiating some dialogue” about a possible vaccine mandate with the Wareham Education Association and with the union representing other non-teaching staff members.

The committee did not discuss a vaccine mandate for eligible students. 

Dr. Amy Wiegandt, chair of the Wareham Board of Health, told the School Committee she supported the idea of mandatory covid-19 vaccinations. 

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “I think people should be vaccinated.”

She compared the idea of a vaccine mandate to the laws that require people to wear seatbelts. 

“I think we know it’s a safe vaccine,” Wiegandt said. “Vaccines are old. We’ve had them for a long time. Our science is much better now than it was back in the 50s. So I would agree with a mandate.”

Wiegandt said it was clear that the unvaccinated are more at risk of contracting the virus. The town has seen around 30 new cases of covid-19 each week over the past month and about two-thirds of those people had been unvaccinated, she said.

Deanna Semple, a Wareham resident and teacher, spoke against the possibility of a covid-19 vaccine mandate for staff and students during the meeting. 

“Some will say that by not getting vaccinated, one is endangering others’ lives — I disagree,” Semple said. “As we all sit here, we’re masked. If we didn’t believe the masks worked, we wouldn’t be wearing them.”

For that reason, she said she could “begrudgingly live with” a mask mandate in schools. Masks can be removed, she said, vaccines cannot.

She said that people who are vaccinated can still contract the virus. (This is true. It is also true that the risk of covid infection, hospitalization and death are all much lower in vaccinated compared to unvaccinated people.)

“You might say the unvaccinated are a threat to others who are unvaccinated,” Semple said. “But those who are not vaccinated are making an educated decision and know the risks and have accepted those risks. They believe that the small likelihood of contracting a deadly case of covid far outweighs the risk of getting the vaccine.”

This assertion fails to take into account that some individuals — including infants and school-aged children under the age of 12 — cannot be vaccinated at this time whether or not they would like to be.

Semple said she “emphatically disagrees” with the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s decision to support requiring covid-19 vaccinations for all employees and eligible students in public schools — particularly because she said the organization does not currently mandate its own staff be vaccinated. 

Ultimately, Semple said, the vaccine should be a choice — not something that should be mandated by the School Committee. Her comments were met with applause from a small group of people, many of whom had been protesting with Semple before the meeting.

Semple is the president of the Wareham teachers’ union, but she was not speaking on behalf of the organization. 

The committee did not indicate when or if it would discuss the topic of a vaccine mandate again.