Conservative Caucus hears from opponents of coronavirus vaccine mandates

·4 min read

Sep. 23—HARTFORD — Bus drivers, teachers, nurses and parents spoke at the state Capitol on Wednesday about their opposition to employer mandates for the COVID-19 vaccine, taking aim at Gov. Ned Lamont for mandating vaccines for school staff, child care workers and state employees via executive order.

The General Assembly's Conservative Caucus held the hearing, publicized via news release in advance as an event "to hear concerns from teachers and (health care) workers who say they have been negatively affected by COVID-19 vaccination requirements imposed by their employers."

"I don't come to the table here today being anti-vax or anti-mask; I come pro-choice," said Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford. He said he's been hearing that labor unions aren't standing up for people opposed to mandates, which he finds disconcerting.

Fishbein was critical of mandates happening via executive order, without going through the legislative process. Both he and Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, stressed that they were there Wednesday to hear from the public.

France is chairman of the Conservative Caucus and also is running for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District.

Asked if they would be hearing from people who support workplace vaccines, France said they "would hear from anybody who shows up." The Day stayed for the first two hours of the hearing, and the 44 people who had signed up to speak by that point — with only seven speaking so far — all indicated on the sign-up sheet they oppose mandatory vaccination.

The hearing, which began shortly after noon, was still ongoing as of The Day's deadline, with more than 50 people signed up in total.

Some called the vaccine experimental, with Fishbein and France incorrectly saying the Pfizer vaccine hasn't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. France said, "It was argued that the Pfizer vaccine is approved; it is not in the United States. It's the German version, BioNTech, that is approved, and it is not present in the United States."

The FDA on Aug. 23 approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for people ages 16 and older. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines still are available only under emergency use authorization, as is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people ages 12 to 15.

At the hearing, multiple bus drivers from Bristol spoke out against mandates.

Ashley Madore, who has worked for First Student for more than a decade, hasn't gotten the vaccine and said her choice "is between God and me. It's against God to put anything into my body."

Carolyn Pattrell, who has been a bus driver for 17 years, said she'll "probably lose my job tomorrow. Oh well. There's plenty of bus driver jobs out there."

Bristol Superintendent Catherine Carbone referred a request for comment — and a question about whether bus drivers would be disciplined or fired for speaking at the hearing, or for refusing to be vaccinated or tested weekly — to First Student. The bus company didn't respond to an email.

Bristol bus driver Trisha Connelly said she doesn't feel there are clearly defined terms in the executive orders and a lot is being left up to interpretation. She feels that requiring weekly testing for unvaccinated people is discriminatory.

Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, questioned whether any of the bus drivers asked if vaccinated people also are required to get tested, since they also can get and transmit the coronavirus.

Kathleen Lopez, a substitute teacher from Winsted, said she submitted a request for a religious exemption and is waiting to hear back. If it's rejected, she'll have to be tested. "I don't want the swab up my nose," she said. "I don't know what's in it. I'm afraid of it."

The polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test involves getting a sample of respiratory material by sticking a sterile swab up one's nostrils.

In Connecticut, 68.1% of the population is fully vaccinated and 75.5% has received at least one dose. Lamont's order is that state workers be vaccinated by Sept. 27 or provide a COVID-19 test weekly.

A Gallup poll conducted in July found that 52% of respondents would favor their employer requiring all employees without a medical exemption to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and 38% oppose.

e.moser@theday.com

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