BURRILLVILLE – An effort by School Committee member Donison Allen to end the Burrillville School Department’s involvement in vaccination clinics was tabled this week, with other members of the school board saying they need more time to research and think on the issue.
Allen has proposed a resolution declaring that the Burrillville School District, “will not advertise, promote, assist or otherwise participate, including offering space, in any vaccine clinics related to COVID-19.”
The committee member presented his case this week based, in part, on the concept of informed consent, questioning if the school district could be unintentionally taking on liability by advertising the vaccination events, and allowing them to take place in school buildings.
“The emergency use status of the injections that are being offered – there’s legal ramifications,” Allen said. “We are participating and continuing to participate in a clinical trial.”
“We have to be very careful, in my opinion, that the parents that are coming in for this are truly being given informed consent,” he said. “I think we’re all putting ourselves at great risk and I don’t think we’re being told the truth by these companies.”
“When we send out our notices to parents that this is happening it provides the impression to parents that we’re supporting these clinics,” he added.
Allen’s 18-minute presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 9 followed testimony from two residents who took issue with information about the clinics that was sent home with students. Those questioning the district’s involvement in the events argued that people have not been provided enough information to meet the legal requirement of consent, creating what they said could be a liability issue.
Resident Amanda Knight pointed to vaccine courts – a place where those who have been harmed by a vaccine can apply to receive monetary compensation. Many parents now agreeing to get their children vaccinated, Knight argued, are, “not fully comfortable.”
“A lot of parents are only influenced by marketing. They have no idea what they’re agreeing to,” Knight said “They’re just not being given all of the science.”
“If the school participates somehow in supporting vaccination of kids, could they be held liable?” Knight asked. “I just think it’s very important for the town to consider, because that would be a lot of resources.”
Supt. Michael Sollitto delivered the legal opinion on the issue provided by Attorney Benjamin Scungio, noting that the governor could still require the school department to make buildings available for vaccine clinics.
Sollitto said that, “People or organizations that participate are exempt from liability unless they are grossly negligent,” according to the attorney.
The superintendent said that four upcoming clinics are scheduled to take place at Burrillville Middle School, including two for booster shots.
“The two town clinics are fully booked,” Sollitto said. “Those all would be impacted by this resolution.”
The decision on when and where to hold clinics in Burrillville, Sollitto said, is made by a committee made up of officials from the town, including the head of emergency management, fire and police chiefs, and more. The upcoming event for children ages five to 11, he said, will be run by the state, unlike some that have relied on municipal volunteers.
“Everything that was sent out to parents was directly from them,” Sollitto said. “We just provide the location.”
School Committee Chairperson Alexandra LeClair thanked Allen for his effort in presenting the material.
“For me, it’s a very fine line between supporting and informing,” LeClair said. “I think we’re simply informing them that we’re holding these clinics.”
“Schools are some of the largest buildings in town,” she added of the choice of location.
Scungio noted that the state General Assembly is working on the question of what defines informed consent.
Committee member Sean Bouzan said that the question of whether or not to have his own son vaccinated is, “a very hard decision to make.”
“I appreciate what you’ve done,” he said to Allen. “I need more time to digest it.”
But not all of the information cited at the meeting was fully accurate, and some of the vaccine concerns mentioned are said to be extremely rare.
“Most people don’t realize the Centers for Disease Control is a Georgia corporation,” Allen said. “About 45 percent of their budget is used to procure and distribute vaccines.”
The CDC is the nation’s public health agency, a division of the federal government. But a recent viral claim confused the government agency with the separate, independent, “CDC Foundation.” Good government groups have raised legitimate concerns about the foundation’s involvement with pharmaceutical companies, but the non-profit’s contributions to the actual CDC are said to make up a proportionally small amount of the federal agency’s overall budget.
Allen also cited cases where individuals had reactions to the vaccine and statistics from the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. But many health experts note that while it is true there have been cases of severe side effects from vaccines, with 442 million doses administered in the United States, only highly rare instances have been found.
And anyone can report events to VAERS – a national early warning system to detect possible safety problems. The database contains unverified information claiming 18,416 deaths linked to the vaccine. But nearly 7,000 list the age of the alleged victims as “unknown,” and five are said to be of children under the age of three, although the CDC only recommends vaccination for children ages five and older.
Cases listed in VAERS are investigated and according to the CDC, “A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines.”
Knight pointed to concerns about myocarditis and pericarditis in young people who receive the vaccine.
The CDC has released data showing a small increase in cases of myocarditis and pericarditis in young adults after receiving the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but in the great majority, the rare instances were said to be mild, and resolved on their own.
Like so many questions during the unprecedented challenges of the past two years, health experts advise that odds are always weighed against the potential for the spread of COVID-19, and the possibility of long-term effects of the virus.
Parents are encouraged to do their own research – and always to consider the source and validity of claims.
Committee member Terri Lacey said that for her, the vaccine clinics are an issue of choice.
“For every ten people who come in that are against the vaccine, you’re going to have ten more that want to get it,” Lacey said. “The vaccine is a choice. If you want to get it, get it. If you don’t want to get it, don’t get it.”
“I think this has become a political statement for a lot of people,” Lacey said. “It never should have been that. This is a health issue. I don’t understand where our medical community has been pushed so far down the ladder that people don’t trust the science anymore.”
“We’re not promoting it,” Lacey added. “We’re just providing a place for people who want the vaccine. I just don’t see the problem here.”
Member Silvia St. Pierre pointed out that the school buildings are technically owned by the town.
Still, St. Pierre added of the issue, “I think I need more time to think about it.”
The committee voted unanimously to table the resolution until their next meeting in December.