Beckley will not likely be following New York City and California in requiring vaccines or Covid testing for city employees, Mayor Rob Rappold said Tuesday.
As the highly transmissible delta variant makes its way through the nation, New York responded by requiring its 340,000 municipal employees to be vaccinated by September or to undergo testing once a week and to wear masks. California unveiled a similar plan, and the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first federal agency to require medical workers to be vaccinated.
The VA does not offer the option of masks and testing.
Rappold said Tuesday that it is unlikely that Beckley will enact a similar strategy to deal with vaccine hesitancy. He said he had discussed his position with city attorney Bill File.
"I don't feel I have the right to make that requirement," said Rappold. "I'm going to err on the side of caution.
"I don't feel like I can ask members of Council who (among them) have not been vaccinated, and I don't know that I'm medically competent enough to base any of my decision on whether they have (been vaccinated) or not," he added. "At this point, it's not an issue.
"We've certainly encouraged people."
Rappold estimated that 80 percent of the city's 280 employees have possibly been vaccinated, but the statistics were not immediately available on Tuesday evening.
He said that the city mounted an early effort when vaccines first became available by providing vaccination opportunities to first responders. The city brought in vaccines from three different sources, when the vaccine was still scarce in the winter and spring.
"We've been very proactive in making sure everybody who wanted to have a vaccine received it at no cost," said the mayor.
Beckley Police Department Lt. Chris Graham said Monday that he volunteered in vaccination drives hosted by health officials in the city, which resulted in vaccinations of nearly 30,000 people, he said.
"I got the vaccine as soon as it became available, because of where I was exposed to it so much at work, where I take care of patient care," Graham explained. "I was afraid of coming home and bringing it home to my mom.
"I made sure she was vaccinated, and I made sure I got vaccinated."
He said that he needed the protection, as he had to carry dead bodies from houses where residents were infected with Covid. He had also seen the effects of the disease on those who needed medical transport. On one occasion, Graham had to break into a man's house because the man was too weak to open the door.
When firefighters got inside the house, Graham said, the man only drew enough breath to say, "Covid."
"It was a way to get our lives back and get our normal back, and, to me, that was a big deal," he said. "I enjoy going to concerts. I enjoy being out, and that was a way to get that back."
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson on an emergency use basis. Full FDA approval has not yet been given.
Graham said he was not surprised by the VA decision to mandate vaccines and said that he anticipates that Covid vaccines could, eventually, become mandatory for participation in public life.
"You could, kind of, see it coming," he said. "I think this will be like with kids going to school.
"At a certain age, it will be a regular vaccination that they want kids to have, to go to school."
Raleigh County Fire Coordinator Kevin Price said Monday that he does not support involuntary vaccinations for first responders.
"To mandate a shot that someone who volunteers their time to help their fellow man is wrong," he said. "If I am mandated to take it to go to a restaurant or travel, then I'll just stay home and toss some ribs in the smoker and save money.
"It should be a choice — and one without any shaming, either way."