Employees of the city of Fairhope may be eligible for vaccine compensation, a monetary incentive approved by the City Council Monday night aimed at improving immunization rates among city staff. Mayor Sherry Sullivan said more than 30 employees have been absent from work in the past month due to positive COVID tests or exposure, and data she has indicates those who are vaccinated are not sick, are not absent as long, and typically are not hospitalized.
Meanwhile, several employees have been hospitalized during the pandemic and recent data from Thomas Hospital indicates 92 percent of COVID patients are unvaccinated.
“In a city with the growth and size of Fairhope, it’s impossible to continue the level of service expected by our citizens with these absences,” Sullivan said. “These departments are barely treading water. We cannot continue to have employees out.”
The American Rescue Plan, approved by Congress earlier this year, provided money for municipalities to compensate employees affected by the pandemic. In May, the city awarded its full-time employees $500 for working through the pandemic, but with proof of vaccination they are now eligible for $500 more. Part time employees who get vaccinated may receive $250 and seasonal employees will receive $125.
Earlier in the meeting, resident Stephanie Durnin said she was disappointed to see the item on the agenda and its approval indicates the council lacks fiscal conservatism.
“Incentivizing a vaccination with our taxpayer funds is unconscionable and will cost a fortune,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that money came from the federal government, where do you think they got it from? It is not the place of the government to rain money on those who participated in a voluntary medical procedure.”
Another resident, Stephanie Hannon, said the resolution was “wrong,” “bordering on coercion,” and “tantamount to bribery.” She came armed with facts and data gathered about the pandemic, suggesting the incentive may cause a rift between employees and advising caution regarding unapproved vaccines.
“The emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines come with known and unknown risks,” she said. “Should our city employees be injured due to taking your offer and submitting to the experimental vaccinations, what will your response be?”
Sullivan acknowledged that she was uncomfortable with the scope of government handouts in the wake of the pandemic, but said she’s willing to use the tools at her disposal.
“We can use the American Rescue Plan money to reward employees who worked during the pandemic and to incentivize vaccines, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” she said. “I know there are a lot of people who are not comfortable getting this vaccination … but we cannot keep operating our city [unless] our employees are safe and healthy.”
Councilman Corey Martin noted eight of his family members have died from the virus. He argued that some vaccinations have been readily accepted by the public at large for nearly 100 years, and only recently has it become political. He encouraged his immunodeficient mother to get vaccinated, and she had no adverse side effects.
“This gives the people the opportunity to do the right thing not just for themselves, but for others around them,” he said. “This is a reward system and we’re the first to do it, I’m proud of that.”
Councilman Jimmy Conyers said he wasn’t a proponent of mandatory vaccines, but wasn’t opposed to an incentive. Council President Jack Burrell, who tested positive for coronavirus last year, said it’s a personal choice.
“Nobody’s going to chas
tise you if you don’t,” he said, adding that there is no animosity between employees who have been vaccinated and those who haven’t. “I don’t think there is a downside to this.”
Sullivan projected the incentive would cost $300,000. She noted the city is self-insured, so employee illnesses and hospital stays “really affect the bottom line.”
The measure was approved by the council in a 4-1 vote. Councilman Jay Robinson opposed without comment.
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