The El Paso County Board of Health paused a vote Wednesday on a symbolic resolution backing voluntary COVID-19 vaccinations after hearing about three hours of passionate testimony from concerned residents.
Many residents said they were concerned that the resolution could pave the way to a vaccine mandate, and that residents should be free to decide whether or not to get a vaccination with their physician.
Board of Health President James Terbush initially planned to have the board vote on the resolution before taking public testimony, but the group decided against it and ultimately decided the resolution, which will not lead to policy change in the county, needed to be reworked before a vote.
"I am humbled and a little distressed that I so misjudged the feeling and passion of the community members. ... The resolution as written is not ready for prime time," he said.
The board received more than 200 requests to speak at its special meeting following some misinformation that the resolution could lead to a vaccine mandate, officials said.
El Paso Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez assured the crowd that elected county leaders would not back any mandates.
The board seemed to favor removing language from the resolution that "encourages the governing boards of El Paso County, and municipalities within El Paso County, to advocate for and encourage El Paso County citizens to be vaccinated."
The line had been reused from a similar resolution against using recreational marijuana, Board of Health member Kari Kilroy said.
The group also supported new language that would encourage residents to talk with their doctors about getting the vaccine.
The board also heard harsh criticism of the vaccine and its efficacy, including that it is not the best prevention tool and that the board should back therapies for treating the vaccine as well. Many called for the board to drop the resolution completely.
The comments from concerned residents stood in contrast to comments from board members who backed the vaccines at the beginning of the meeting.
"The COVID vaccine is safe effective and it saves lives," board member Dr. Richard Vu said.