Criticism rises over vocal, unvaxxed health board member
Numerous medical studies have proven the effectiveness of vaccinations in fighting and preventing COVID-19 and other viruses, but some still refuse to be bitten. Although they are largely independent of public health organizations, Oak Park Board of Health member Wynne Lacey is not. Her decision not to get vaccinated, despite being eligible, led many to call on her to resign.
Lacey’s views on vaccination were not known to the village council when she was appointed last June, according to village president Vicki Scaman.
“I think it’s safe to say she wouldn’t have been named had it been known,” Scaman said.
The Board of Health serves as an advisory body to the Oak Park Director of Public Health and the Village Council, providing recommendations as needed regarding public health and the prevention or suppression of disease.
Lacey, who is not a medical professional but identifies herself as a mental health professional, is cheeky about her vaccination status. In a December 14 email to members of the health board, she admitted that she had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. She repeated the admission publicly at a December 27 health board meeting. Lacey confirmed that her status has not changed.
She told the Wednesday Journal that she did not understand the demands for resignation over her views on vaccinations. Vaccinations, however, are an essential public health function, according to Oak Park Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder.
“There shouldn’t be a difference of opinion on vaccinations,” Chapple-McGruder said.
In addition to resignation, the dismissal of an incumbent village commission member is a multi-step process. The Oak Park Citizens’ Commissions Procedures Manual states that commissioners cannot be removed from office based on their opinions. However, a commissioner’s appointment may be terminated if his or her inappropriate conduct or language interferes with the commission’s ability to do its job. Appointments to the Commission may also be terminated if the commissioner makes false statements of fact to the commission.
When there is cause for removal, the chairman of this commission, the village clerk and the liaison officer, as well as the liaison of the Citizen Participation Commission, must review the situation and recommend the removal to the president of the village.
Lacey did not contract COVID-19 but she said family members did. Her husband, who has multiple sclerosis, and her children have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I voiced my opinion that I thought they shouldn’t,” Lacey said of her children.
Lacey has received further criticism for her comments regarding the role of health services amid the pandemic, including equating mitigation measures with sanctions.
“Public health services should educate, not mandate. It’s time to stop testing ourselves. It’s time to stop threatening to punish with forced vaccinations and masking,” Lacey wrote in a Dec. 6 email to fellow commissioners.
Lacey wrote in the same email that she lost her internship at Thrive Counseling Services due to her refusal to get a COVID-19 shot and that her children were ‘coerced’ into getting shots and carrying masks lest they be banned from participating in school activities. Wednesday Journal has contacted Thrive for confirmation.
“Oak Park’s healthiest citizens are being punished in the name of ‘science,'” she wrote.
Lacey’s sentiment was not well received by administrator Susan Buchanan, who is an occupational physician and faculty member of the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health, in addition to being village administrator and health board liaison. Buchanan suggested Lacey leave the health board in a follow-up email to the health board also sent on December 6.
“I have the impression that you misunderstand the role and emergency powers of the health department,” Buchanan wrote to Lacey in December. “Please consider stepping down to make way for someone who believes in the historical and legal role of public health in protecting the health of communities.”
Stating that this allowed for “debate and discussion,” Lacey in turn sent Buchanan a statement from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which stated “that all human beings have the right to liberty, that they do not lose when serving the sick or disabled” and the group warned of the unknown long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccinations. The statement lists autoimmune disorders, antibody-enhanced diseases, infertility, cancer and birth defects as potential long-term effects without providing any scientific evidence to support the claim.
“There are hardly any vaccines that have long-term effects that show up later in life. There is no biological mechanism by which this would be possible because the vaccine component does not stay in your body. “Buchanan said. “All it does is stimulate your own immune system to make antibodies.”
The organization behind the statement is a small but vocal interest group that has taken conservative political positions against abortion and the Affordable Care Act. The group also filed alongside a New York woman a lawsuit against U.S. Representative Adam Schiff in 2020, alleging the congressman violated the group’s right to free speech after his letters to the top tech CEOs have led to perceived anti-vaccination materials being pulled from the platforms and the drop in traffic to the group’s website.
Lacey does not consider herself part of the anti-vaccination vanguard, although she was not vaccinated against the flu in her adult life. She underwent vaccinations as a child.
“When I was a kid, I had everything they gave you without your consent,” she said.
For those with underlying health conditions, Lacey said she “kind of understands” why they would choose to get vaccinated. However, she does not see the point of getting vaccinated herself.
“From what I understand of viruses in general, it didn’t make sense to me to give them to healthy people,” she said. “It just didn’t occur to me that I needed it.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention names prevention through vaccination as the primary defense against COVID-19. The rate of COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in December was 16% higher among unvaccinated adults 18 and older, according to the CDC.
Lacey thinks the COVID-19 vaccinations are “experimental,” though they are cleared for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have also been fully approved by the FDA.
Instead of being vaccinated, Lacey is participating in a medical study examining the effects of vitamin D in preventing COVID-19 through the University of Chicago. As part of the study, she takes a daily vitamin D supplement. Lacey doesn’t know if her supplements have been approved by the FDA.
“I don’t know the dosage. We just send you the pills,” she said.
She is aware of the backlash her views on vaccinations and COVID-19 mitigation measures have caused, but has no plans to resign from the health board. She thinks the reaction to her beliefs is based on others’ inability to process new information.
“I can forgive my neighbors and board members for being overwhelmed and having a startled reaction around me, even feeling the need to demand of my body and discriminate,” said said Lacey.
She believes her presence on the commission provides an alternative perspective and that differences of opinion strengthen the government. Others disagree.
Oak Park resident Laura Sakiyama, on behalf of a group of people, said in a public comment that Lacey’s beliefs made her unfit to serve on the health board. The comment was read aloud at the January 25 board of health meeting.
“We find it problematic that Wynne Lacey, a vocal anti-vaxxer who thinks Oak Park should stop trying to prevent and/or suppress disease in the midst of a pandemic, sits on our health board,” said writes Sakiyama.
“We find it very problematic that she weighs in on decisions related to the health and well-being of our community and we find it very problematic that she is able to make prejudicial statements about vaccine needs.”
Carollina Song, another Oak Park resident, also spoke out against Lacey in public comments to the village council as well as the District 200 school board, where Lacey is a parent volunteer.
“I think it’s a huge problem that we have a staunch anti-vaxxer on the board of health who has a role in setting public policy,” Song told the Wednesday Journal. “We are in the midst of a pandemic. Lives are at stake.”