The claim: Washington's State Board of Health will vote on using police to enforce child vaccine mandate
Controversy and misinformation about an upcoming public health meeting in Washington State erupted on social media after users claimed local officials plan to vote on mandating COVID-19 vaccines for school-aged children and using law enforcement to detain unvaccinated individuals.
“WA Covid Detainment Emergency,” reads the headline of an image shared on Jan. 9 by the Facebook page Maskless in Oregon that accumulated more than 1,400 reactions in three days. “On January 12th at 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. the WA State Board of Health will discuss applying current infectious disease WAC codes to include Covid-19 for all WA State residents.”
The post asserted that board members would discuss an emergency order allowing health officers to use law enforcement to “involuntarily detain a person or group of persons to be isolated in a quarantine facility” and vote on including COVID-19 vaccines as part of school immunization requirements.
Similar versions of the claim made their way to Facebook and Twitter, while some users shared a Substack post about a resident's letter to the board “on the proposed policies to involuntarily detain people in a quarantine facility & mandate COVID vaccination in schools.”
But the posts misinterpret agenda items for the state's Jan. 12 virtual public meeting. There is no proposal to use police to enforce a child vaccine mandate, much less a vote on it. And discussion of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine is in preliminary stages and not yet up for a vote.
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USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the post for comment.
Board's staff addresses rumors
The Washington State Board of Health published a statement on its website Jan. 7 stating it is neither voting to require a COVID-19 vaccine for school-aged children nor discussing isolation or quarantine policies at the Jan. 12 meeting.
The board said it would receive a progress update from a technical advisory group, which is considering adding a COVID-19 vaccine to Washington's existing legislation on required immunizations for schools and child care centers.
“The purpose of the TAG (technical advisory group) is to evaluate a vaccine against the established criteria to develop and provide a recommendation,” the board said in the statement. “The recommendation is then presented to the board at a future regularly scheduled meeting for consideration.”
A vote on the group's recommendation will take place at a future meeting. If the COVID-19 vaccine is added to the state's immunization requirements, current medical, religious, philosophical or personal immunization exemptions listed in state law would still apply, according to the statement.
The second part of the claim, that there will be a vote on using law enforcement to detain individuals who are unvaccinated against the COVID-19, stems from agenda item No. 9 in the meeting, which focuses on Chapter 246-100, legislation on communicable diseases.
The social media posts mischaracterize a section of the chapter that says a local health officer can detain an individual for the purposes of isolation or quarantine if there is reason to believe that person poses “a serious and imminent risk to the health and safety of others.” In such a case, the health officer would have to formally submit a court order or isolation request, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
However, this rule has been in place since at least February 2003, and it is unrelated to COVID-19. The board says it's continuing a November 2021 hearing to update language referencing HIV and AIDS to align with a state law that passed in June 2020 and focuses on modernizing the control of communicable diseases.
The board's statement says the proposed changes being discussed at the meeting are only related to HIV language, and they do not have anything to do with isolation or quarantine polices or using law enforcement for COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Washington's State Board of Health will vote on using police to enforce a child vaccine mandate. The board said it would receive an update from a group looking into whether a COVID-19 vaccine should be added to the state's existing immunization requirements, but there's no Jan. 12 vote. A section of state law on detaining people for isolation or quarantine has been in place since February 2003, is unrelated to COVID-19 and is not being discussed or voted on at the meeting.
Our fact-check sources:
Washington State Board of Health, Jan. 7, Clarifying Online Misinformation about the Jan. 12 State Board of Health Public Meeting
Washington Policy Center, Jan. 7, Misinformation about a Jan. 12 State Board of Health meeting was easy for many to believe
Washington State Board of Health, Dec. 29, 2021, Washington State Board of Health TAG Meeting Materials
Washington State Legislature, Oct. 22, 2019, IMMUNIZATION OF CHILD CARE AND SCHOOL CHILDREN AGAINST CERTAIN VACCINE-PREVENTABLE DISEASES
Washington State Legislature, July 28, 2019, Engrossed House Bill 1638
Washington State Board of Health, Jan. 12, Washington State Board of Health Meeting Materials
Washington State Legislature, Nov. 15, 2018, COMMUNICABLE AND CERTAIN OTHER DISEASES
Washington State Legislature, Nov. 15, 2018, Procedures for isolation or quarantine
Washington State Department of Health, Nov. 26, 2018, USE OF ISOLATION OR QUARANTINE LEGAL DOCUMENTS PROCESS CHART
Washington State Department of Health, accessed Jan. 11, Isolation and Quarantine Guidelines and Forms
Washington State Legislature, Feb. 13, 2003, WAC 246-100-040 filing
Washington State Legislature, June 11, 2020, Final bill report ESHB 1551
Washington State Board of Health, accessed Jan. 11, Communicable and Certain Other Diseases - STD Modernization
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Washington health meeting agenda misrepresented online