Boston Mayor Kim Janey on Thursday addressed criticism of her comments invoking slavery and birtherism earlier this week, while reiterating that there are no plans to implement a vaccine passport similar to the one being proposed in New York City.
Janey has faced criticism in recent days for not moving quickly enough to require proof of vaccination for city employees and for likening vaccine passports to slavery and birtherism.
"I wish I had not used those analogies because they took away from the important issue of ensuring that vaccine and public health policies are implemented with fairness and equity," Janey said at a news conference at City Hall. "If vaccine passports were imposed today with a government mandate to ban unvaccinated residents from venues like restaurants or gyms, that would shut out nearly 40% of East Boston and 60% of Mattapan. Instead of shutting people out, shutting out our neighbors who are disproportionately poor people of color, we are knocking on their doors to build trust and expand access to lifesaving vaccines."
Janey also said she and union leaders are "actively working toward" imposing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on the city's workforce, forecasting an announcement on the topic next week. The plan would require all 18,000 city employees to get vaccinated against the virus or submit to regular testing.
Boston, like most the of the rest of Massachusetts, is within the zone where people are advised to wear masks indoors in public settings. As of Wednesday, 1,166 new cases and three new deaths had been reported in Boston over a two-week period, and the city's COVID test positivity rate has risen to 3.4%.
Despite those increases, Janey said Boston is "nowhere near" needing to create additional hospital space as it did during the height of the pandemic.
Janey said the city continues to boost vaccination across the city by partnering with trusted community-based organizations and focusing on communities that have been the hardest hit.
"We must all do our part to fight the pandemic," she said. "Getting a vaccine is the best way to protect ourselves and our loved ones and our communities from this deadly virus."
City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is running against Janey for mayor, said she was "shocked" when she heard the remarks about slavery, made to The Boston Herald earlier this week. She said there is already too much misinformation about the pandemic.
"It is incumbent on us as leaders not to give these conspiracies any oxygen," she told NBC10 Boston on Wednesday.
Another mayoral candidate, City Councilor Michelle Wu, also took issue with Janey's comments.
"Anyone in a position of leadership right now should be using that platform to build trust in the vaccines," she said.
Also on Thursday, Janey announced a pilot program to address the way the city responds to mental health emergencies and reduce the role of police officers responding to these incidents.
“I am proud to launch a pilot program that reimagines how we respond to mental health calls,” Janey said. “These pilot investments will connect residents and their families with the care they need as we bring more safety, justice, and healing to Boston neighborhoods.”
She said the pilot program is also expected to increase the availability of police officers to respond to violent crimes.