City, Coronavirus, News

Mayor Wu lifts proof of vaccination policy

Two people sit at a counter in Life Alive Organic Cafe on Commonwealth Avenue. Mayor Michelle Wu announced Feb. 18 that proof of vaccination for indoor venues is no longer required. ALICE LEE/DFP STAFF

Mayor Michelle Wu announced proof of vaccination is no longer required to enter indoor spaces in Boston on Feb. 18. 

The announcement comes just over one month after the implementation of the B Together policy — which required proof of vaccination from individuals to enter select indoor spaces such as restaurants, fitness centers and entertainment venues.

On Feb. 8, the City described three guidelines that must be met to lift the B Together policy — intensive care bed occupancy rates lower than 95%, fewer than 200 daily COVID-19 hospitalizations and the seven-day average of community positivity rates lower than five percent. 

“Public health data shows that we’re ready to take this step in our recovery,” Wu said in a press release at the time.

Boston met all of these conditions as of Feb. 18, according to a later press release.

Ramnath Subbaraman, assistant professor and associate director at the Tufts Center for Global Public Health, said he is “disappointed” with the decision.

“A passport system is one way to motivate people to get vaccinated, and removing it very early essentially doesn’t allow it to have any impact in that area,” Subbaraman said.  “So it’s both not protecting our public spaces now, and it’s also not serving as a motivator for people to get vaccinated.”

Subbaraman compared vaccine passports to smoking bans, since both are meant to protect those nearby.

“What vaccine passports do from an ethical perspective, in my mind, is they recognize that the public exists, that there is a public good, that there is a public independent of individual choice,” Subbaraman said. 

Liam Michel, a Dedham resident, said he supports the decision to remove proof of vaccine requirements because it will help businesses and employees. 

“With the employment shortage going on right now, it is just a lot more work for these employees [to check vaccine proof] on top of what they’re already doing,” Michel explained. 

Some establishments, like the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, required proof of vaccination for patrons prior to the town introducing similar requirements on Jan. 15.

Brookline also ended its proof of vaccination requirement for indoor businesses Wednesday.

Katherine Tallman, executive director and CEO of the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation, said checking vaccination cards did not cause her organization any problems. 

“People have been very patient, very cooperative and very grateful,” Tallman said. 

The theater is undecided on whether or not to continue implementing its own proof of vaccination requirements, Tallman added. 

“We need to talk to our staff and talk to some of our patrons and get some feedback,” Tallman said.   

Now that  the indoor vaccination requirement is removed, the question remains about whether Boston will align with the state’s decision Feb. 15 to lift the indoor mask requirement. 

Paul Beninger, associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, said it is difficult to make a decision about vaccination mandates that apply everywhere. 

“A rural [area] is going to have a little different emphasis on things than being in a megalopolis or highly metropolitan area,” Beninger said. “A lot of different things go into how they make their decisions, partly it’s being rural versus urban and partly the amount of resources they’ve got to be able to do the accounting.”

Subbaraman said ensuring equitable vaccination rates across the entire community is an important metric to consider when deciding to relax COVID-19 policies. A second metric should be making sure transmission is low enough everywhere to ensure that it is safe to reopen.  

Beninger said society has learned a lot about how to respond to pandemics over the course of the past two years.

“If another particularly virulent, otherwise unresponsive virus comes along, we can respond to the challenge,” Beninger said.


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