Michigan doctor out after criticizing county vaccine policy

TRAVERSE CITY — A county medical director in the Traverse City area said he’s losing his job, weeks after he criticized elected officials for a policy that bans mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for county employees and controls vaccine messages from the health department.

Dr. Michael Collins said his contract wasn’t renewed, which means Thursday is his last day after 28 years at the Grand Traverse County Health Department.

“I saw it coming,” Collins told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. “I think it’s too bad that the health department can’t be autonomous and use its best judgment and have its opinions openly shared. … Nobody should be in a better position to advise than the health department.”

In August, county commissioners approved a resolution that said the county will not require a vaccination or COVID-19 test for county employees, contractors or job applicants. It said any messages about vaccines from the county will encourage people to discuss “risks and benefits” with their doctor.

People have a “sacred inalienable right” to make a choice, the policy stated.

Local health departments in Michigan typically have been urging people to get vaccinated.

Collins wrote an essay in the newspaper two days later, saying commissioners had “crossed the line from illogical opinion to irresponsibility.”

The health department, he said, must be free “to give science-based, evidence-based advice to all who can benefit from that.”

Collins said a county official urged him to resign and said his contract likely wouldn’t be renewed at the end of September. Separately, County Administrator Nate Alger told him last week he wouldn’t be rehired.

Alger declined to comment when the Record-Eagle asked if the doctor’s opinion played a role.

Alger said it was decided the health department would “go in a different direction.”

“I would write it again if I was given a do-over,” Collins said in a farewell message to health department staff.

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