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Both/And Thinking: GRuB, the Vaccine Mandate and Health Autonomy

December 27, 2021
Both/And Thinking: GRuB, the Vaccine Mandate and Health Autonomy

For many months now, GRuB’s COVID-19 adaptations to keep our community safe have been fairly straightforward, and have included: outdoor or virtual programming and meetings, masking and distancing when on site, frequent handwashing, and staying at home if not feeling well. Recently, in order to partner with the school system for our GroundED program and to partner with SNAP-Ed through the Washington State Department of Health, we’ve been asked to comply with the state’s new vaccine mandate for educators. 

In times like these, GRuB practices both/and thinking. We make space for different ideas and opinions and we see disagreement as an opportunity for growth. This has led to some deep conversations among our team about GRuB’s values, and reflection on how we want to be as a community. 

In response to COVID-19, we’ve adapted our programs and operations in ways that often seem counter to a core part of our mission around growing community connection: for example, moving from in-person to online gathering, limiting how and where people meet, covering our faces and staying apart at a time when we are particularly hungry for connection. 

GRuB seeks to honor the health wisdom and autonomy of each individual in our community, we aim to have transparency about our practices, to build community across difference, and to make program and operational decisions that center the needs of those who are most vulnerable.  As an example, even when mask mandates were mostly lifted in our area, we asked people at GRuB to continue masking outdoors.   

And, we recognize the pandemic is changing rapidly, and many of our community members have very different vulnerabilities, perspectives, and options as they each make choices around their own health.  Information about the disease, treatment, and prevention is varied and evolving.  Thurston County’s COVID-19 rates are at record highs in late summer 2021, and, with ICU beds in Oregon and Idaho currently full, people with non-COVID related needs experience higher risk around receiving care.

And, we recognize that vaccines in particular come as a traumatic and deeply personal choice for many of our community members. There is a long history of medical oppression, broken trust, and coercion for Black, Brown, and Indigenous people in particular; examples span the time from slavery, to decades-long syphilis experiments on African-Americans at Tuskegee Institute, to today’s use of food as an incentive for COVID vaccinations for inmates. This generational trauma, compounded with the newness of the vaccines, the politicization of mandates, and the acceleration of a public health crisis in our region, have led to polarized views and practices. So many of us experience conflict about vaccines, whether internally, in our families, or within our communities. And, we recognize that the mandate forces people to make difficult decisions about their health and livelihood in a short time frame and in a public way. This feels contrary to so many things about GRuB’s values and multicultural practices.       

And, after listening to many perspectives on this matter, GRuB will be complying with the mandate, so that we can continue to operate the GroundED program and our GRuB Garden Projec together with our partners. Under the mandate, all staff, volunteers and contractors working on the farm during the GroundED program or doing SNAP-Ed work with the GRuB Garden Project will need to show proof of vaccination or an exemption. We recognize that this decision will limit opportunities -- or even re-open past trauma -- for some community members; for others, this decision may help our programs feel safer and more accessible.  For individuals who choose not to provide verification of vaccination, we will work to provide meaningful ways to interact with GRuB that honor their choices. We also pledge to be transparent about our COVID-19 related practices, and to continue to find creative solutions so everyone can feel welcome at GRuB.

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