TOWN OF ITHACA, N.Y.—The Town of Ithaca passed a COVID-19 Vaccine Incentive Program in an effort to encourage Town government employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination without fear that they may miss work as a result of their appointments or the resulting side effects of whichever dose they receive.

The program is aimed at making receipt of the coronavirus vaccine a valid excuse to miss work, but without having to expend any accrued sick days or paid time off. The idea is that it would remove another barrier for employees to receive a vaccination, with the goal of getting everyone vaccinated who wants to that works for the Town of Ithaca. The Town is not requiring employees to receive the vaccine at this time.

The measure passed unanimously.

There was some minor debate and clarifications initiated by Town Board member Rich DePaolo, who wanted to further refine the definition of what would constitute enough of a “reaction” to warrant time off, to which Bleiwas responded that the definition is intentionally flexible to allow for a variety of different symptoms and reactions to qualify.

Additionally there were some questions about whether or not the program should be seen as an “incentive,” though it was decided that was mostly just grappling over semantics.

“I have this assumption that not wanting to die from COVID-19 is incentive enough to get a vaccine, and that if someone is dead-set against getting a vaccine, being offered time off from work in order to do it is not going to get them to get the vaccine,” DePaolo said. “This potentially accommodates people who can’t get a weekend appointment or after-hours appointment and can only get an appointment during work hours. But I don’t see this as incentivizing anyone who wouldn’t otherwise have gotten the vaccine to actually get one.”

As is his nature, DePaolo added a bit of color to the end of his comments: “You either are for living or you’re for the idea that Bill Gates is trying to implant microchips into your arm and rule the world. It’s a pretty clear divide at this point.”

Others drew parallels between how the move is similar to programs that should be adopted to encourage government employees time to vote by giving them Election Days off without penalty. Judith Drake, the town’s Human Resources Manager, said that the county was discouraging municipalities from offering cash incentives to employees for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine which is why the Town of Ithaca decided not to take that route.

DePaolo also asked why retroactive compensation would be offered to people who have already received the vaccine, but Brock said that was the easiest way to navigate the deal past the unions representing town employees.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com