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Weld County commissioners walk back plan to stop posting vaccine information on social media

The commissioner charged with approving the health department's social media posts says he was "caught up in the moment" when he appeased anti-vaccine advocates.

WELD COUNTY, Colo. — When Weld County Commissioners said they would stop sharing vaccine information on social media pages, they appeased a small group of anti-vaccine advocates. As soon as the public caught on about the new plan, the commissioner in charge of approving the health department's social media posts walked back his comments.

Commissioner Scott James told 9NEWS that Weld County will continue posting information about vaccines on social media, reversing a stance the commission took during a Nov. 24 meeting.

"I had made a comment in a public meeting about how I was not going to approve any more Facebook posts. I was caught up in the moment about that particular Facebook post," said James. "It’s not within my purview to change the policies of the board of county commissioners in that manner."

The only three people who signed up for public comment during that Weld County Board of Commissioners meeting were anti-vaccine advocates, asking commissioners to stop using county social media pages to post information about vaccines. The meeting was first reported by the NoCo Optimist.

"I am sick to death of these Facebook posts that you guys are putting on advertising this experimental vaccine to our children and adults," one of the speakers addressing the board said. 

"I will ensure that any sort of post that involves a COVID vaccine will not receive my approval," James responded minutes later during the board meeting. 

Even though James now says Weld County will continue using social media to share information about the vaccine, he doesn’t think it will change any minds. The county used less than a quarter of a $25,000 grant given to them to market vaccines before deciding they didn’t need to do that because everyone has made up their minds.

"What that $6,000 basically determined is folks in Weld County have made up their minds," said James. "They know where to get the vaccinations and know what to do. So therefore why spend any more money?"

James said the extra money from that grant was returned to the health department. He wasn’t sure what it will be used for, but says it will not be used on marketing or boosting Facebook posts about the vaccine.

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"It’s a constant struggle to correct the record if you will about what this vaccine really does," said Jake Williams, the CEO of Healthier Colorado, a non-partisan non-profit that’s been working to convince people on the fence about getting the vaccine.

Though Weld County commissioners say everyone who will get the vaccine has already made up their mind, Colorado's state data shows thousands of people are still getting their first doses. 

In the past week, 20,217 people received their first dose of the vaccine across the state, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In total, 156,097 Coloradans received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the last month.

Williams says commissioner’s social media posts are more important than they may seem as they continue to try and convince people to get vaccinated.

"Local, trusted messengers, the research shows, are the best messengers. Weld County Commissioners have a great opportunity to be that trusted messenger," said Williams. 

Weld County commissioners are allowed to see and approve social media posts from the health department before they’re posted. The last time the Weld County Government posted information about the COVID vaccine looks to be in the middle of November. 

Commissioner James supports vaccines, just not any mandates. He’s not too sure about the Facebook posts either, but says he’ll still approve them.

"Do we coerce? No," said James. "Do we educate and inform? Yes."

On Wednesday the county put out a statement on behalf of the commissioners saying that the comments were not made on behalf of the whole board. It's in full below.

A recent news story recounted a Weld County Board of Commissioners meeting where a commissioner, in response to a comment made by a constituent, stated he would not approve any more COVID information to be published on Weld County’s social media platforms. The statement made was not at the direction of the entire board and has led to valuable discussion internally about the importance of government sharing information with the public and, as always, allowing the public to make their own informed decisions. 

Through this statement, the board of commissioners has reiterated their position that information about COVID-19 will continue to be published, updated. and maintained on the Health Department’s webpages as well as Weld County’s two social media platforms (Facebook @weldcountygovernment and Twitter @weldgov).

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