By Corinne Murdock
The Pima County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday that unvaccinated employees will pay up to $1,500 more in insurance fees – but unvaccinated illegal immigrants with COVID-19 will be given a $2 million quarantine shelter, without facing any penalties for their vaccination status. The supervisors voted for the vaccination disincentive 4-1; only Supervisor Steve Christy voted against it.
Christy argued that this disincentive was punishing people arbitrarily, pointing out that his fellow supervisors are choosing to punish the unvaccinated while ignoring others with significant comorbidities. He pointed out that there are other employees beyond the unvaccinated that present as much or more of a financial burden to the county health care system due to their health conditions.
“[I]f we’re going to penalize employees who don’t take the vaccine because if they fall sick it will cost more on the county’s health care system, is there going to be an examination of all employees with other ailments or sicknesses that cause expenses to our health care system, such as obesity or high blood pressure or diabetes?” asked Christy. “This is a discriminatory segregation of those who have the right to choose what type of procedures they want with their own conscience and their own decision with their medical practitioner – to coerce them with monetary penalties is wrong, and it is definitely […] unconstitutional.”
Following Christy’s remarks, Supervisor Adelita Grijalva quickly motioned to vote on the item. Some of the arguments in favor of the vaccination disincentive focused on the perceived duty that employees owed one another in limiting COVID-19 spread.
Many of the citizens who issued public comment during the meeting expressed their opposition to the vaccine disincentive. They cited the lack of long-term studies on the vaccine, as well as the need to honor religious exemptions and personal medical needs.
Pima County salaries range from as low as $15 an hour ($2,400 a month), to nearly $140 an hour ($22,400 a month).
As for the $2 million to shelter illegal immigrants, the board approved the use of those Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to acquire a local Red Roof Motel with nearly 180 rooms.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry explained in a letter that this expenditure was necessary due to other shelters reaching COVID-19 capacity. According to Huckelberry, over 8,400 asylum seekers have been processed since March. Of those, just under 300 individuals were COVID-positive (three percent of the total), while nearly 1,800 received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Yet, Huckelberry emphasized that it would be necessary to obtain additional housing to stop any spread.
“The key to ensuring COVID-19 does not spread significantly in congregate housing is to provide individual housing during the quarantine period,” stated Huckelberry. “A three percent infection rate among the population at risk is not significant.”
Last month, the supervisors voted to give employees a $300 bonus and three extra vacation days as an incentive to get vaccinated. As a result, over 2,140 additional employees got vaccinated. Around 4,430 employees are vaccinated – 66 percent of their workforce.
The earliest that these vaccine disincentives could go into place would be October 1.