COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — No employer, either public or private, could require employees to receive vaccinations under GOP legislation pending in the Ohio House. Also, workers could not be fired as a result of refusing.
The measure before the Republican-controlled House Health Committee has attracted multiple opponents of COVID-19 vaccines but goes further in addressing mandatory requirements for all vaccines, such as for the flu.
"I believe in vaccines and scientific research. I also recognize that vaccination is a personal choice and that, for a variety of reasons, not all Ohioans can or want to receive vaccines," said Rep. Jennifer Gross, a Republican from West Chester in southwestern Ohio, in introducing the bill on May 18.
Gross, a nurse practitioner, told fellow lawmakers she has received other vaccinations but not the one for COVID-19.
The legislation does not mention COVID-19. But Gross made multiple references to employers including hospitals requiring proof of the COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment.
The legislation also strengthens notices that schools must provide parents about exemptions they can seek against having their children vaccinated. In addition, the bill would repeal a state law requiring college students to disclose whether they’ve been vaccinated against hepatitis B and meningococcal meningitis.
The Health Committee heard testimony Tuesday from opponents of the bill.
Not being able to require employees to receive a flu vaccination, or even inquire if they received it, would be “like Russian roulette,” Dr. John Crow of Akron's Children Hospital told lawmakers.
"If the armor we wear as health care providers is our vaccination, and we as an administration can’t really even know if you’re wearing that armor or not, we would either have to have everybody in the hospital in all circumstances wear protective equipment, or we would have to put the patients’ lives at risk," Crow said in Tuesday morning testimony.
Similar bills have been introduced nationwide, though the Ohio legislation appears to go farther in covering more vaccines than just the one for COVID-19.
In Louisiana, a pending bill would give employers broad exemption from lawsuits if they don’t require workers or customers to get the coronavirus vaccine and someone contracts COVID-19.
In Tennessee, a bill that failed to make it far in the GOP-dominant Legislature would have prohibited an employer “from requiring an employee to receive an immunization or vaccination for COVID-19 against the will of the employee as a condition of maintaining employment.” Similar bills were introduced in Connecticut, Indiana, and Maryland this year, among others.
Hundreds of people supporting the Ohio bill have provided written testimony or traveled to the Statehouse to testify in favor.
“Each person has the right to medical privacy and should have the right to choose their own medical path according to their conscience," Sally Jones, 52, a mother of three children in Hilliard in suburban Columbus, wrote the committee in testimony submitted on May 25. “It is the responsibility of each individual to take care of their own health. That is NOT the responsibility of the government.”
Jones' anti-vaccine position was common among people testifying in support. But many individuals singled out the coronavirus, saying that requiring that particular vaccine was a road to socialism or worse and likening the stigma of not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine to Jews forced by Nazis to wear yellow stars.
One opponent, Ohio Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, set off a social media frenzy and launched multiple internet memes when she testified on June 8 that people have become magnetized by the virus, allowing metal to stick to their skin.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a bulletin June 3 specifically debunking this falsehood, explaining that all COVID-19 vaccines are free from metals.
The Ohio bill is opposed by almost every statewide business organization, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and numerous hospitals, state associations of doctors and nurses, and other health care groups.
“If passed, this legislation has the potential to reverse decades of immunity from life-threatening, but vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, hepatitis, meningitis and tuberculosis,” a business and health care coalition said in a statement.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine also opposes the bill. Last week, minutes after introducing the latest winners of the state's Vax-a-Million incentive lottery, he reviewed the impact that vaccines have had on society.
“Before modern medicine, diseases such as mumps, polio, whooping cough were common and caused great, great, great suffering and death to thousands of people every single year,” DeWine said.
Associated Press writers Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.