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Board of Health discusses plastic bag usage, vaccine vendor partnership

by | Dec 19, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Board of Health at its meeting Monday night heard a resident’s concerns about plastic bag usage at local stores as well as details about a partnership with a multistate vaccine vendor that is expected to save the department money.

Sustainable Green Committee member Peggy Barton appeared before the board with “an ecological plea” to discuss her concerns about plastic bags being distributed at the CVS on Main Street despite what she called “the plastic ban in town.”

“It’s continually shocking when I go into CVS and they have great big plastic bags at the checkout,” she explained. “It made no sense to me.”

She believes the retail chain and the town may consider their plastic bags reusable because the CVS bags are of a thicker gauge than most. She countered that if a person doesn’t buy a bag that is specified as being reusable, “They’re not going to value it.”

In a letter to the board, she called the plastic CVS bags “de facto single-use” bags.

Barton said she visited CVS before the meeting and found paper bags there. But she quickly learned from an employee that they are only there temporarily, as the plastic bags that were ordered are out of stock.

She questioned whether the town could “de-approve” the use of thicker gauge plastic bags. Allowing these bags is “making a sham of all our efforts.” Barton also complained about plastic bags being used in grocery store produce aisles. Until there is a mandate for shoppers to bring their own bags, she seemed pessimistic about their use and noted that her research showed few plastic bags get recycled.

Health Department Director Shaun McAuliffe said CVS, Target and Walmart have formed a “consortium” to stop the use of current plastic bags by 2025 and find an alternative that would be compostable.

Board chair Richard Jacobs said the pandemic stalled the town’s efforts on curbing plastic bag use. The board will take Barton’s concerns under advisement.

Board supports vaccine partnership with VaxCare

The board expressed support for the Health Department’s desire to partner with VaxCare, which was discussed at last month’s meeting. The company provides vaccines and computer equipment/software to health departments. It has been operating in several states with positive reviews and is new to operating in Massachusetts. VaxCare’s software automatically keeps track of vaccines and processes insurance claims.

McAuliffe indicated the department likely would save money with this vendor. The department currently has to pay for vaccines and wait for reimbursement from the state, which has been slow to provide the money.

Said McAuliffe: “This kind of solves that risk issue.”

Public Health Nurse Simone Carter noted that the agreement with VaxCare is nonbinding. If either party is dissatisfied, it can be rescinded within 30 days. This system will be used for vaccines that are not publicly funded and will help with accurate insurance reimbursements.

Another benefit of the agreement she highlighted is that trained nurses will be administering the vaccines and can answer any questions.

McAuliffe added that the state’s Department of Public Health is now in preliminary discussions with VaxCare to use the program statewide. The town would be allowed to go forward with VaxCare now, but a “digital bridge” would need to be designed to ensure that Hopkinton’s data is transferred to the proposed future statewide system.

“There’s no downside for Hopkinton because we have a population that has insurance,” added Carter.

The board will have a line item about VaxCare in its upcoming meeting agendas so that updates on how the system is utilized will be provided.

Said Jacobs: “I think it’s going to be an upside all the way around.”

Department FY 23 narrative for Annual Town Meeting approved

The board approved 3-0 the fiscal year 2023 narrative for the town to use for May’s Annual Town Meeting.

McAuliffe asked the board whether it was appropriate to publish information in the disease prevention session about people who died from COVID-19, suicide or drug overdoses, which prompted a discussion.

“From a prevention standpoint, I think it’s important to see that,” McAuliffe said of the data.

Carter expressed concern about people’s “need to know” versus “the grief and pain it might cause someone.” The wording was changed to reflect that two adults committed suicide rather than calling them individuals.

Vice chair Nasiba Mannan said she recently attended a presentation on the administration of Narcan with Carter. An HPD officer presented information about the overdoses, and she asked that the board request him to give a similar presentation at a future meeting. This discussion was tabled.

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