Preferring to persuade rather than mandate, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. board of trustees has decided not to change regulations that would have made COVID-19 vaccinations a requirement for obtaining health certificates and possibly also for enrolling in any CNMI schools.
During a board meeting on Dec. 1, the board voted to not move forward with amendments to the ““CHCC School and Child Care Facilities and Communicable Disease Rules and Regulations.” Instead, the board voted to conduct more public education campaigns and outreaches and to compile more research and data on the matter.
In a social media post Wednesday, Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan)—who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Health and Welfare—wrote that she and Rep. Leila Staffler (D-Saipan)—who chairs the House Committee on Education—attended the Dec. 1 CHCC board meeting since she and Staffler on Nov. 22 signed and submitted a joint request to hold oral hearings on the proposed changes to CHCC’s rules and regulations.
Sablan attached to her social media post the Nov. 22 request addressed to CHCC chief executive officer Esther L. Muña. In the request, Sablan and Staffler cited a portion of the law that requires agencies like CHCC to provide opportunities for oral hearings before making changes to any of their agency regulations. The two further asked that these hearings be made accessible on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
Sablan and Staffler also cited another portion of the law that says that, if an agency like CHCC were to go through with approving changes, if requested, agencies like CHCC are to “issue a concise statement of the principal reasons for and against its adoption, incorporating therein its reasons for overruling the considerations urged against its adoption.”
Sablan reiterated in her post Wednesday that she and Staffler fully support COVID-19 vaccination for all eligible residents, including children. However, at this time, the two acknowledge that more public engagement is needed to address the questions and concerns many in the community—parents with school-age in particular—have regarding COVID-19 vaccines for children.
Also in her post Wednesday, Sablan lauded the CHCC board for its review of public comments, facts, and the current circumstances in deciding to not move forward with the amendments. The board’s decision, Sablan said, “was not made lightly.”
When asked about the public comments received thus far prior to the Dec. 1 board meeting, Muña said at a Nov. 29 news briefing that many comments received were against mandating vaccines for school-aged children.
Muña at the time further explained that, if the board approves moving forward with the proposed amendments, there will be public hearings scheduled to discuss the changes. If the board voted to not move forward with the amendments, there will be no public hearings.
Currently, portions of the “CHCC School and Child Care Facilities and Communicable Disease Rules and Regulations” require proof of immunization against a list of diseases that include diphtheria; pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles (rubeola), mumps, and rubella (German measles), and hepatitis B.
The proposed addition that was up for deliberation by the CHCC board was to include “COVID-19 and its variants (to the extent the child is eligible to receive the vaccine)” to this list of diseases.