Brevard County Commission Shoots Down Vaccine Mandate For First Responders

The Brevard County Commission on Tuesday shot down a proposal from Commissioner John Tobia to require first responders employed by the county to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Tobia announced the proposal last week, citing an email from Brevard County Health Director Maria Stahl, in which Stahl stated that unvaccinated emergency medical technicians responding to a call could transmit the virus to a patient, “which could result in the death of a resident.”

The resolution would have required all Brevard County firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians who have direct contact with the public to receive the vaccine as a condition of employment, with certain exceptions required by law.

“This is a simple policy looking out for the well-being of the citizens of Brevard County,” Tobia said at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

The proposal never went to motion after the other commissioners signaled they would vote against it.

“I didn’t support a mandatory mask. I’m not going to support a mandatory vaccine, but I do get your point,” Commission Chair Rita Pritchett told Tobia.

Commissioner Bryan Lober said he was “not even going to consider” supporting the proposal before clear evidence showing the vaccine prevents spread of the virus. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that while the vaccines are effective at preventing illness, the research on whether they prevent someone from contracting and transmitting the virus is mixed.

“The bottom line is, I’m not going to force a needle into someone’s arm without there being an incredible set of extenuating circumstances, and we’re not even approaching that here,” Lober said.

Commissioner Curt Smith echoed Lober’s comments, saying employees shouldn’t have to get the vaccine if they don’t want it.

“I would encourage them to. I think it’s a prudent thing to do,” Smith said. “But it’s their choice, not ours.”

The announcement of Tobia’s proposal drew concern and frustration last week from some local firefighters and their supporters, including the Brevard County Professional Firefighters union. The county and union currently are engaged in contract negotiations.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Tobia peppered union President Michael Bramson with pointed questions about firefighters wearing masks, COVID-19 fatality rates and a position statement from the national firefighters’ union calling for priority vaccine access.

“Maria Stahl has said that not getting a vaccination will result in the death of residents that you are in charge of protecting. Does that concern you? Yes or no?” Tobia said.

“I don’t have legal counsel here, and I refrain from answering these lines of questions,” Bramson told the board.

Tobia balked at the frequent comparison during the meeting between his vaccine mandate and a countywide mask mandate, proposed last summer by Lober.

Tobia resisted the general mask mandate, but supported a later proposal to require businesses receiving Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds to require masks. The latter was never brought to a vote.

“One is a mandate on a private citizen, one is a condition of employment on a county employee. There are no similarities between the two,” Tobia later told FLORIDA TODAY.

“I’ve got union firefighters advocating for up to a 30% raise,” he said. “At the same time, they’re not willing to take precautions to keep safe the very people they expect to pay increased taxes to fund that raise.”

In other news, the County Commission voted 5-0 in favor of a resolution recognizing longtime FLORIDA TODAY reporter Dave Berman for honesty and fairness in his tenure covering county government for the newspaper.

“Dave was always fair with respect to his coverage. When I did things that were dumb, he called me out for it. When I did things that were smart, he gave me praise for it, and that’s how it ought to be,” Lober said.

The motion was a more serious counterpart to a resolution earlier this month mocking former FLORIDA TODAY opinion columnist Isadora Rangel, a move that drew scrutiny and attention from national media.

Rangel, as part of her job, had frequently criticized the board in her columns before taking a job at the Miami Herald in early February.

“I just wanted to make sure the world knows … we’re not anti-press, we were just ‘anti’ that one person in particular,” Smith said. “Mr. Berman has been very, very honest, and, to me, that’s the key for someone that’s in that business.”


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