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Missouri County Considers a COVID Compromise

Did the vaccine kill you? The government will pay your family.
by Jim Swift
October 28, 2021
Missouri County Considers a COVID Compromise
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

While the country waits for President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate to take effect, and 2024 hopefuls like Govs. Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis trot out countermandates in their own states, one county in Missouri has considered a different sort of plan—one that could help persuade vaccine-hesitant government employees to get a shot.

The state is at something of an odd political moment. Its governor may not be taking COVID very seriously. One of its senators infamously saluted the insurrectionist mob on January 6. Its likely next new senator is a former governor who resigned in disgrace and is now hoping people will forget he was a bad guy. But in St. Louis County, home to a million people, something strange is happening: an attempt at a COVID compromise.

The county council, which has a 4-3 Democratic advantage, voted along party lines earlier this fall to mandate that the county’s 4,000 employees have to be vaccinated to keep their jobs.

In response, Councilman Tim Fitch, a Republican and former police officer, proposed a bill that would do three things:

  1. Ensure that county employees who are vaccinated, which all have to be, are not required to take paid time off should they contract COVID-19.
  2. Pay for healthcare costs for employees who take the vaccine and demonstrably develop a health issue as a result of the vaccine. For life.
  3. Should said employee die as a result of a medical-related issue from the vaccine, their family will get $1 million dollars.

Fitch’s bill passed 4-2. But the county executive, Sam Page, has indicated he will reject it (essentially exercising a veto), saying: “vaccines are the way out of the pandemic.”

While the county council could in theory override Page’s veto, the necessary five votes to do so just aren’t there. Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway tells me:

I won’t [vote] for a veto override. I think it is dangerous to our recovery efforts to imply that the vaccines aren’t safe, and that’s exactly what this bill does.

After watching all the hacky journalism defending Ron DeSantis’s and Greg Abbott’s bizarre COVID proposals, and also considering the fact that Missouri is not exactly a paragon of political normalcy these days, I reached out to Tim Fitch to ask about the bill he sponsored: Was this a troll job?

We talked and he volunteered without prompting that he was vaccinated, and he wanted the county to “put its money where its mouth is” should anything go wrong with the vaccine and adverse health effects.

And you know what? It seems reasonable. I understand Dunaway’s argument that the bill implicitly suggests that vaccines are not safe. While her decision not to join in overriding the veto seems to kill the bill, I’m still a little bit optimistic about the potential for compromise.

Consider this: Democrats, in general, believe in a vaccination mandate, depending where you are or what you do. Likewise, let’s say you live in Texas: There is a counter-mandate explicitly focused on preventing employers of private businesses from requiring their workers getting the jab.

The St. Louis County proposal may have been a bit of trolling, but it also represents a reasonable, sensible compromise between those two positions. Other locales facing the same sort of competing pressures—to mandate or not to mandate vaccination—should consider copying the bill and offering compensation at least to government employees provably harmed by the vaccine.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.