Yamhill County Commissioner withdraws threat; fails to discredit COVID-19 vaccines on government website

Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starrett is no longer holding her health department hostage for failing to discredit COVID-19 vaccines, even though county health officials have not granted the most controversial demands of Starrett.

Starrett has previously said she will withhold a credential her health department needs unless she makes changes to her official COVID-19. Web page. But at a committee meeting on Thursday, Starrett said she was pleased with the COVID-related changes the department has made online over the past week.

Starrett did not respond to a request for comment.

The standoff had struck some as an unwarranted political and unscientific intrusion into the affairs of health officials. The demands were made at a town hall by the actively anti-vaccine and anti-mask group Free Oregon, indicating that local politicians could respond to the needs of increasingly radicalized groups.

Yamhill County Health Department Director Lindsey Manfrin appears to have handled the Commissioners’ requests deftly while staying within the confines of what is defensible for a government agency to post online.

Among other things, Starrett had asked the commissioners to consider removing the words “safe and effective” when used in reference to COVID-19 vaccines; remove a paragraph stating that the county recommends residents of Yamhill County get vaccinated; specify that the vaccines are “experimental”; and add information on vitamin D and “other nutrients”.

Manfrin’s department added some details to the site but did not add information supporting unproven treatments or discrediting COVID-19 vaccines. Changes made included adding information on how people with COVID-19 can identify signs of dehydration and adding a link to a page with recommended doses of vitamins and minerals.

Manfrin drew very clear lines.

Chairman of the committee Lindsay Berschauerwho, like Starrett, has regularly expressed skepticism about the current science of COVID-19, wanted to know why the website couldn’t say more about specific vitamin supplements that can help people prevent or fight a COVID-19 infection.

In response, Manfrin cited potential liability if the department makes medical recommendations that aren’t supported by research and the potential for a slippery slope of misinformation.

To illustrate her point, the director cited a COVID-19 “cure” that recently made the rounds on social media and which suggests drinking your own urine.

“The risk of taking information that hasn’t been proven and putting it on our website is, where do we stop and who makes those decisions?” Manfrin said.

The meeting nearly turned contentious, as Berschauer rushed to clarify that the commissioners’ requests and questions were far more reasonable than suggesting Yamhill County residents drink their urine as a cure for COVID-19.

“Director Manfrin, I haven’t heard a single commissioner refer to urine drinking as a proposal…something to put on the website,” Berschauer said. “It looks really nice there.”

Among other demands, Starrett and Berschauer also pushed the department to change its COVID-19 vaccines page website to “soften up” language that says vaccines prevent serious illness and death. But Manfrin’s boss, also present at the meeting, intervened, asking the commissioners to let him meet with the health director and talk about their other concerns.

Nonetheless, Starrett voted to have the board approve the letter of support for accreditation with the Public Health Accreditation Board, a national nonprofit that sets rigorous standards for local health departments.

The commissioner said she was encouraged by the changes the Department of Health has made to the website and by the county’s plan to continue discussing other concerns.

“I would be in favor of this letter now,” Starrett said. “I wasn’t before, but I feel some hope that we’re getting…we’re at least making progress.”

Accreditation with the board is “prestigious and highly valued,” and it took “considerable effort” for the county to achieve, Oregon Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie said in a mailed response. email to questions.

“We hope that any elected official will ensure these facts are considered when posting information on a local public health authority’s website,” Modie said.

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— Fedor Zarkhin

503-294-7674; [email protected]

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