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Grand Traverse County: health department must address potential dangers of COVID-19 vaccines in future messaging

The Grand Traverse County Health Department must address the potential dangers of immunization in future messaging about COVID-19 vaccines, after the county commission passed a resolution 5-1 on Wednesday.

County health officials will now suggest that residents consult with their doctor about the benefits and risks of getting the shots.

Major side effects from the vaccines are rare and public health leaders say the health risks from getting COVID-19 are far greater.

But Grand Traverse County leaders say the dangers of COVID vaccines aren’t talked about enough.

Commission chair Rob Hentschel wrote the resolution after he met two people who experienced health issues they said were connected to their COVID shots.

“I want [local public health officials] to encourage people– just like every pharmaceutical commercial we see on television– to encourage people to talk to their personal doctor and do a little research,” he says. “Find out what’s right for their individual health.”

Commissioner Penny Morris joined the majority in support. She said she had an adverse reaction to the COVID vaccine and worries others who choose not to get it will be discriminated against.

“When people say, 'I need to feel safe,' that’s deeply important to them. And that’s ok,” Morris said.

Commissioner Betsy Coffia was the sole vote against the resolution. She said local officials shouldn’t dictate how public health officials do their job.

“I believe that there’s a reason that we go to a doctor when we’re sick, and that when a public health crisis breaks out, and there’s a disease that needs to be prevented, we look to people who have the expertise to actually do that,” Coffia said.

In a statement, Munson Healthcare leaders wrote they were opposed to changes in vaccine messaging.

“It is critical to continue to address this pandemic and any other health crisis with science and the best epidemiologic practices available. This includes our consistent message that vaccines are one of the most powerful tools available to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. While we agree that individuals should be well informed about their own personal health decisions, we strongly believe that the overall benefits of being vaccinated outweigh any potential risks or side effects related to the current vaccines on the market,” the statement read.

The resolution also banned vaccine mandates for county employees and said the health department should not encourage local employers to set vaccine requirements.

More than 70% of Grand Traverse residents so far have gotten at least one COVID vaccine dose.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.