In a Tuesday, Oct. 12, county board meeting, Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich called for a delay or cancellation of the vaccine mandate for county employees. The commissioner cited mandates as a form of structural racism.
“We really need to seriously think about, as we’ve committed to trying to eliminate structural racism from all aspects of county government, whether or not an employee vaccine mandate is going to have a disproportionate impact on minorities, causing them to lose their employment — and under current state policy, unemployment, too,” Bozievich said during the discussion of vaccine mandates.
The Lane County Board of County Commissioners was sitting as the Board of Health at the time of the meeting.
As of now, Lane County government employees must get a COVID-19 vaccine before Nov. 30 or face losing their jobs, barring a religious or medical exemption. Bozievich urged to delay the policy implementation “at the very least” and said “it would probably be best if we just eliminated the policy in general.” He also mentioned a historic distrust between BIPOC communities and the medical field as another reason to delay the policy.
The most well-known cause for the distrust is the 40-year-long Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which 400 Black men, mainly sharecroppers, were denied treatment for syphilis. Twenty-eight of them died of syphilis and another 100 of related complications.
Some of Eugene’s BIPOC leaders, such as Silver Mogart, vice president of Eugene’s League of United Latin American Citizens and a member of two Lane County health boards, disagree with Bozievich’s statements.
“It’s a simple way for him to find a reason to delay the mandate,” Mogart says. “I don’t feel that there’s a lot of integrity there. He shouldn’t be speaking for the BIPOC community.”
Bozievich’s 2021 votes on the county board don’t align with his most recent statements on structural racism. In April, also while sitting as the Board of Health, the board voted to declare racism a public health crisis, a resolution that “promoted active and authentic engagement of BIPOC communities on issues of race, ethnicity and health.” Only Bozievich voted against the resolution, saying it was “virtue signaling.”
Then, in September, Bozievich was again the lone dissenter in a resolution that established Indigenous People’s Day in Lane County, saying that judging Christopher Columbus by today’s moralities isn’t the best thing to do.
“It would be more interesting to see him more involved with BIPOC communities than to speak on their behalf, because he hasn’t put in the work,” Mogart says.
Through LULAC, Mogart helped organize vaccine clinics to vaccinate hundreds of BIPOC members. Oregon Health Authority vaccination data for Lane County still shows a gap in vaccination rates, however, with 74 percent of white people vaccinated, while just 55 percent of Hispanic/Latinx people, 53 percent of Black people and 48 percent of Alaska Native/American Indian people are vaccinated.
Despite the discrepancy, Mogart says this data can be deceiving because Lane County has relatively few BIPOC people. While vaccine access was an issue when rollouts first began, COVID-19 vaccines are now more accessible than ever. Mogart says that once the clinics established there wouldn’t be any police or immigration presence, “these clinics just exploded” with people.
The Eugene/Springfield NAACP also runs weekly vaccination clinics at its office. Eric Richardson, executive director for the group, acknowledged the lack of trust between some BIPOC communities and the medical field, which Bozievich cited in his call to delay the mandate. But Richardson emphasized the NAACP’s goal of mending this relationship, which has “come a long way” since past injustices.
“If someone is interested in helping the African American and Black community, I think the best way to do that would be to help with the vaccination effort and help people into trusting the government, not digging into the distrust,” Richardson says. “We believe that the vaccine is the best way to protect our communities, Black, Brown, white and otherwise.”
Eugene Weekly reached out to Bozievich but did not receive a response before press time.
In partnership with Lane County Public Health, the Eugene-Springfield NAACP hosts weekly vaccine clinics on Tuesdays from noon-2 pm at 330 High Street in Eugene.