Numerous medical studies have proven the effectiveness of vaccinations in fighting and preventing COVID-19 and other viruses, yet some still refuse to get jabbed. While they are largely independent of public health organizations, Oak Park Board of Health member Wynne Lacey is not. Her decision not to be vaccinated, despite being eligible, has led many to call on her to resign.

Lacey’s vaccination views were not known to the village board at the time of her appointment last June, according to Village President Vicki Scaman.

“I think it’s safe to say that she would not have been appointed if it were known,” Scaman said.

The board of health serves as an advisory body to the Oak Park public health director and the village board, providing recommendations as necessary regarding public health and the prevention or suppression of diseases.

Lacey, who is not a medical professional but refers to herself as a mental health professional, is brazen about her vaccination status. In an email sent Dec. 14 to board of health members, she admitted being unvaccinated against COVID-19. She repeated the admission publicly during a Dec. 27 board of health meeting. Lacey confirmed that her status has not changed.

She told Wednesday Journal she does not understand the requests for her to resign for her opinions on vaccinations. Vaccinations, however, are a core function of public health, according to Oak Park Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder.

“There shouldn’t be a difference in opinions on vaccinations,” said Chapple-McGruder.

Aside from resignation, removing a sitting village commission member is a layered process. The procedure manual for Oak Park citizen commissions states that commissioners cannot be removed from their posts based on their opinions. However, a commissioner’s appointment can be terminated if their conduct or inappropriate language interferes with the commission’s ability to accomplish its work. Commission appointments can also be terminated if the commissioner makes false statements of fact to the commission.

When cause for removal exists, the chair of that commission, the village clerk and the trustee liaison, as well as the Citizen Involvement Commission liaison, must review the situation and recommend removal to the village president.

Lacey has not contracted COVID-19 but she said members of her family have. Her husband, who has multiple sclerosis, and her children have undergone vaccination against COVID-19.

“I voiced my opinion that I thought they should not,” Lacey said of her children.

Lacey has received further criticism for her comments regarding the role of health departments amid the pandemic, including equating mitigation measures with punishment.

“Public health departments should educate, not mandate. It’s time to stop testing us. It’s time to stop threatening punishment with forced vaccinations and masking,” Lacey wrote in an email sent Dec. 6 to her fellow commissioners.

Lacey wrote in the same email that she had lost her internship position with Thrive Counseling Services over her refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and that her children were “coerced” into being vaccinated and wearing masks out of fear they would be barred from participating in school activities. Wednesday Journal has reached out to Thrive for confirmation.

“The healthiest citizens of Oak Park are being punished in the name of ‘science,’” she wrote.

Lacey’s sentiment was not well received by Trustee Susan Buchanan, who is an occupational medical physician and a faculty member of the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health in addition to being a village trustee and the board of health’s trustee liaison. Buchanan suggested that Lacey step down from the board of health in a follow-up email to the board of health also sent Dec. 6.

“I get the impression you don’t understand the role of and the emergency powers of the health department,” Buchanan wrote to Lacey in December. “Please consider stepping down to make room for someone who believes in the historic and legal role of public health in protecting the health of communities.”

Stating it allowed for “debate and discussion,” Lacey in turn emailed Buchanan a statement from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which declared “that all human beings have the right to liberty, which they do not forfeit when they serve the sick or the disabled” and the group warned about the unknown long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccinations. The statement listed autoimmune disorders, antibody-enhanced disease, infertility, cancer and birth defects as potential long-term effects without providing any scientific evidence to support the claim. 

“There are virtually no vaccines that have long-term effects that show up later in life. There’s no biologic mechanism whereby that would be possible because the vaccine component does not stay in your body,” said Buchanan. “All it does is stimulate your own immune system to make antibodies.”

The organization behind the statement is a small but vocal interest group that has taken conservative political stances against abortion and the Affordable Care Act. The group also filed alongside a New York woman a lawsuit against U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff in 2020, alleging that the congressman infringed upon the group’s right to free speech after his letters to major tech CEOs led to perceived anti-vaccination materials being pulled from the platforms and decreased traffic to the group’s website.

Lacey does not consider herself a part of the anti-vaccination vanguard, although she has not had so much as a flu shot in her adult life. She did undergo vaccinations during her childhood.

“When I was a kid, I had all the stuff they give you without your consent,” she said.

For those with underlying medical conditions, Lacey said she “kind of understands” why they would choose to get vaccinated. However, she does not see the point in getting vaccinated herself.

“From what I understand about viruses in general, it didn’t make sense to me to give them to healthy people,” she said. “It just didn’t occur to me that I needed one.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention names prevention through vaccination as the paramount defense against COVID-19. The rate of COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in December was 16 percent higher in unvaccinated adults age 18 and older, according to the CDC.

Lacey believes COVID-19 vaccinations are “experimental,” despite being authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations have also been fully approval by the FDA.

Instead of being vaccinated, Lacey is participating in a medical study examining the effects of Vitamin D in preventing COVID-19 through the University of Chicago. As part of the study, she takes a Vitamin D supplement daily. Lacey does not know if her supplements have been approved by the FDA.

“I don’t know the dosage. You just get sent the pills,” she said.

She is aware of the backlash her views on vaccinations and COVID-19 mitigations have caused but has no intention of stepping down from the board of health. She believes the reaction to her beliefs is based on the inability of others to process new information.

“I can forgive my neighbors and board members for being overwhelmed and having a startled response around me, even feeling the need to make demands of my body and discriminate,” Lacey said.

She believes her presence on the commission offers an alternative viewpoint and that differences of opinions make for stronger government. Others disagree.

Oak Park resident Laura Sakiyama, on behalf of a group of individuals, stated in public comment that Lacey’s beliefs make her unfit to serve on the board of health. The comment was read aloud at the Jan. 25 board of health meeting.

“We find it problematic that Wynne Lacey, a vocal anti-vaxxer, who believes that Oak Park should stop trying to prevent and/or suppress a disease in the middle of a pandemic, sits on our board of health,” Sakiyama wrote.

“We find it highly problematic that she weighs in on decisions related to our community’s health and well-being and we find it highly problematic that she has a position to make harmful statements about vaccine requirements.”

Carollina Song, another Oak Park resident, has also spoken out against Lacey in public comments to the village board as well as to the District 200 school board, where Lacey is a parent volunteer.

“I think it’s a huge problem that we have a devout anti-vaxxer on the board of health who has a role in setting public policy,” Song told Wednesday Journal. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Lives are at stake.”

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