Security workers will accompany nurses and staff members of the Jefferson County Public Health’s three mobile vaccine units for the foreseeable future after months of harassment and abuse.
Last weekend, the agency was forced to pull the vans off the street after a driver in Gilpin County, who contracts Jefferson County’s health agency, drove towards and destroyed signage around the van. Others “verbally abused” staff members Sept. 4, said Dr. Dawn Comstock, the agency’s executive director.
These types of attacks aren’t new as they’ve been going on for months, she said, but they’ve escalated to a higher degree. For instance, last month someone threw live fireworks into a tent of nurses and staff members.
“JCPH will not be intimidated out of its public health mission,” Comstock said. “We’ve arranged additional security measures to keep staff safe and will be working with our law enforcement partners to assure these handful of extremists are not allowed to infringe on the rights of those who want to be vaccinated.”
Each incident has been reported to local law enforcement, however, each time the perpetrator has left the scene before they’ve arrived.
Currently, two incidents are being investigated by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and at least one by the Arvada Police Department, said Mike Taplin, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office.
As a result, the health department has partnered with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies who will evaluate whether security, a deputy — on or off-duty — or other local officers are needed.
Comstock said she’s even contacted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to ask for them to provide security or funding for security to be used at each mobile vaccine unit, but was told they’re working with state law enforcement to combat the issue around the state.
“They let us know this isn’t just a Jefferson County problems and they are working with state law enforcement officials on how to address this problem,” Comstock said.
Attempts to reach the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment were unsuccessful on Friday.
Jefferson County Public Health’s mobile vaccine units launched last spring after shutting down most of their mass vaccination sites such as the one at the Arvada Fire Department training facility. Their intentions are to provide services to people who otherwise couldn’t receive them.
At that time, Comstock said she never could’ve imagined what would ensue.
“Not in a million years,” she said.
Comstock attributes the increase in attacks to what she calls “lies” spreading across social media and anti-vaccination groups. Additionally, she questions why people who don’t get vaccinated “infringe on the freedom of those who do.”
“To claim that you have a right to decide not to be vaccinated, while you’re going out to interfere with someone’s right to be vaccinated is the epitome of selfishness and hypocrisy,” Comstock said.
Despite the ongoing barrage of attacks and harassment, the vans will hit the road Saturday morning and continue vaccinating people all across Jefferson County. A list of the clinics locations can be found here.
But the additional security will remain until the community can put their differences aside and either accept each others opinions or unify, Comstock said.
“This isn’t a situation in which a single change doesn’t make a difference, in fact, at this point only individual changes will add up to have a large scale impact we need against COVID-19, Comstock said. “At this point of the pandemic we have to band together as a community. We all have a role to play, even though we’re exhausted, it’s too just too important to stop right now.”