Wynne Lacey’s position on the Oak Park Board of Health became the source of controversy last winter due to her vaccination beliefs. Her decision not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, although eligible, and her comparisons of mitigation measures to punishments garnered much criticism, with many calling on her to leave the volunteer commission.
Lacey, it appears, has since done that.
In an email sent April 23 to the board of health staff liaison, Lacey said she would not be participating in the commission’s future meetings. Wednesday Journal obtained the email through the Freedom of Information Act.
“I will no longer be attending Board of Health meetings as a volunteer,” Lacey wrote. “I have spoken with President [Vicki] Scaman to let her know. Good luck to you!
Lacey’s quiet departure stands in direct contrast to how she very vocally shared her beliefs only a handful of months ago.
The short email – only three sentences in its entirety – was sent just three days before the board of health’s April meeting. Lacey, who was absent from the commission’s March meeting, made her last board of health meeting appearance Feb. 22.
Whether Lacey’s decision to step down was influenced by or independent of public criticism of her views on vaccinations is unclear. She did not respond to requests for comments. Lacey previously stated she did not consider herself an anti-vaxxer.
Despite being notified of Lacey’s decision, Scaman told Wednesday Journal she does not know if criticism was the reason for her exit. Scaman said she had previously spoken with Lacey “on multiple occasions” to “better understand her perspective,” but that Lacey never got specific about the criticism she faced.
“I’ve spoken with her on multiple occasions,” said Scaman. “And the last, which she could potentially be referring to [in the email], is that she didn’t think she would be effective on the board of health.”
Lacey, according to Scaman, wished to see a larger value placed on “differences of opinion.”
“She just didn’t think that her opinion was going to be respected amongst her peers,” the village president said.
Lacey’s views on vaccinations are in direct odds to the Oak Park Public Health Department, which considers vaccinations a core function of public health.
“There shouldn’t be a difference in opinions on vaccinations,” Oak Park Public Health Director Chapple-McGruder previously told Wednesday Journal.
In a recent interview, Chapple-McGruder did not share her thoughts regarding Lacey’s departure, stating only that the health department appreciates all its volunteers.
However, Lacey is still technically a commissioner on the board of health, as her April 23 email does not count as a formal letter of resignation. As to why Lacey’s resignation has not been made official after so many months, Trustee Susan Buchanan offered some conjecture.
“From the village’s perspective, I’m speculating that they decided not to pursue it, because the important thing is that she’s not participating in meetings, so that she can’t spread lies about COVID and the vaccine,” said Buchanan.
Buchanan has been one of Lacey’s biggest critics. In addition to serving as the board of health’s trustee liaison, Buchanan is an occupational medical physician and a faculty member of the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health. Her views have not softened since Lacey stepped down.
“I would prefer an official resignation, so that [Lacey] can no longer attend meetings,” she said.
Village staff are now working to make Lacey’s resignation official, according to Scaman, so that a replacement can be appointed to the board of health. Citizens must submit an application to be considered to serve on any of the village’s commission.
The village board gets final approval to appoint citizen candidates to commissions, but candidates must first be interviewed by the Citizen Involvement Commission.
When asked if the village board will fill Lacey’s vacancy with someone who supports vaccination as a central tenet of public health, Scaman said she did not consider it appropriate for someone to be on the board of health if they do not abide the guidance of the Illinois Public Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As the country is now facing an outbreak of monkeypox on top of COVID-19, Buchanan took a harder stance regarding anti-vaccination rhetoric.
“There’s no place in the Oak Park Board of Health for lies and misinformation about infectious diseases or any health issue for that matter.”