JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Several mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics were put on pause over Labor Day Weekend out of an abundance of caution, in Jefferson and Gilpin County, due to many incidents of harassment.
"I'm upset about the increasing frequency with which staff at our vaccination sites are being mistreated by members of our own community," said Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director Dr. Dawn Comstock. "I do respect every person's right to have their own opinion. What I do not respect is violence and contempt. I cannot abide by the people in our community acting abusively toward Jefferson County public health staff."
While the vaccine sites were closed, they've since re-opened; Comstock shared stories of the incidents with 9NEWS and added that it's not a new or isolated issue.
Over the weekend on Saturday at one vaccination event in Gilpin County, people verbally harassed staff in cars, according to Comstock.
"Unfortunately, that's nothing new. One car decided to take it to the extreme, drove toward staff and drove over some of our signage," Comstock said.
Another incident occurred that day in Jefferson County, where a vaccination clinic was set up in a restaurant's parking lot, which Comstock adds they were invited to.
"A car drove up up to the clinic as if the individual wanted a vaccination. When a public health nurse approached the car to offer to vaccinate the individual or just to provide them with information about the vaccine, the individual rolled down the window and threw a cup full of liquid on the public health nurse. Thankfully, it turned out to be water this time. It could have been something more dangerous. The car left, but then other cars started driving by, verbally assaulting our staff and throwing garbage at them," Comstock said.
In the last month, there was an incident where an individual threw lit fireworks into a tent where clinic staff was working.
In another instance, she says they've had people try to steal equipment after attempting to engage in a physical confrontation.
"I recognize some people continue to have differing viewpoints from Jefferson County Public Health's regarding vaccination. And while I disagree because I will firmly side with the overwhelming evidence that covid vaccines are safe and effective, I do respect every person's right to have their own opinion. What I do not respect is violence and contempt. I cannot abide by the people in our community acting abusively toward Jefferson County Public Health staff," she said.
She said no one has been hurt in the incidents and added that law enforcement responds and de-escalates the situation.
"...people just need to know Jefferson County Public Health will not be intimidated out of its public health mission. We are arranging additional security measures to keep staff safe and are working with our law enforcement partners to try to ensure this handful of extremists are not able to infringe upon the rights of those individuals who do want to be vaccinated," she said.
Overall, she's asking for more respect for staff from the public.
"Our Jefferson County public health nurses, other vaccination site staff and all of our employees have worked so hard for well over a year trying to protect our community and keep people healthy and safe," she said. "Jefferson County public health staff should be able to feel safe when they go to work. So I'm asking everyone in our Jefferson County community to understand how much time, energy and heart Jefferson County Public Health staff has dedicated to our communities during this pandemic. And I'm asking you to please treat them with the respect and kindness they deserve."
Other issues in the state
Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment has nine busses traveling across the state to give vaccines and are experiencing some issues.
"The state mobile vaccine buses are experiencing a growing number of both peaceful protests and concerning incidents," a statement from a spokesperson read in part. "The team is working with the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to identify potential threats at the locations and is working with local law enforcement to ensure a safe vaccine site."
That spokesperson adds that they are aware of various threats and the pressure many public health officials and health care workers are under.
"Threats against the people who are working so hard to end this pandemic are reprehensible and we strongly condemn them," a statement read in part. "We are grateful for the work that our local public health partners have accomplished during this crisis and empathetic to the pressure they face."
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