Senate GOP expresses skepticism over vaccine mandate ban

Several Republicans in the Ohio Senate have expressed reluctance over legislation that bans universities, employers and most healthcare facilities from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

All Republicans in the House except one passed Bill 218 last month, overturning objections from business, healthcare and public health organizations. In Senate committee reviews and interviews Tuesday, however, some Republicans said they did not want to pass legislation preventing private businesses or schools from adopting vaccination mandates if employers deemed it appropriate.

“I think companies should be making the decisions about this,” said Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London.

Hackett and two other senators who made similar comments aligned themselves on the issue with Gov. Mike DeWine and powerful big business lobby groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Business Roundtable. They have said they oppose the federal government’s vaccine mandates for healthcare providers and large employers under President Joe Biden, and they oppose any state legislation that prohibits employers from make mandate decisions for themselves.

The Senate review comes as Ohio, the 9th least-vaccinated state in the country according to the New York Times, experiences its third major wave of COVID-19 cases and a favorable winter for respiratory viruses looms. More than 4,200 Ohioans are currently in hospital with COVID-19, the heaviest patient load since Jan.6, 2021, according to data from the Ohio Hospital Association.

House Republicans spent about six months on a larger version of the legislation. After President Bob Cupp R-Lima said in mid-October that the House would take a “recess” on the issue, lawmakers abruptly passed the mandate ban on vaccines on November 30, just hours afterward. to have made public its latest project.

Along with the warrant ban, the legislation also extends broad immunity to individuals and businesses from lawsuits alleging they have negligently spread COVID-19. This would require those bringing coronavirus lawsuits to prove that the alleged conduct was “reckless … willful … gratuitous or intentional” instead of simply being negligent – which warrants a higher legal standard.

In the House, the main sponsor, Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, said the bill is about personal autonomy and ensuring that the healthcare system does not face an exodus of nurses. In the Senate, however, he presented it as an economic issue.

“I want to make sure it’s very clear that this bill is a very sensible approach to dealing with our labor shortage and our supply chain issues,” he said. declared.

Skeptical Senate Republicans

Typically, the law requires schools and employers to agree to a broad list of exemptions, including a “conscientiousness” claim. Only intensive care units and children’s hospitals can be more stringent. But why not include cancer departments, which care for the 72,000 Ohioans who are diagnosed with cancer a year and may not have full protection from a vaccine, asked Leo Almeida, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

The Hope Lodge in Cleveland – which Almeida says provided nearly 21,000 nights of free accommodation in 2019 to more than 8,000 cancer patients or their families – would also not be able to impose a warrant. to protect patients.

In a post-hearing interview, General Government Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bob Peterson, R-Washington Court House, declined to give his explicit position on the bill, but said he tended to promote the rights of the employer.

“I think in general I lean towards companies being able to make decisions about their employers on how to run their businesses,” he said.

Hackett was the only committee member to make the healthcare argument – vaccines prevent infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

“Is it almost like you’re consistent with what makes the most sense when looking at the data?” He asked Cutrona.

CDC research has found that vaccines are up to 93% effective in preventing hospitalizations from COVID-19. People who are fully vaccinated are about five times less likely to be infected in the first place and 10 times less likely to die from an infection. Data from the Ohio Department of Health shows that since January, about 5% of people hospitalized or died from COVID-19 have been fully vaccinated.

Senator George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., Did not specifically respond in an interview whether he believed an employer should be able to require his employees to be vaccinated, but said he believed to “free markets and free peoples”.

In February, Lang publicly announced that he would not be getting the vaccine. On Tuesday, he said he refused on the advice of his oncologist. His wife, he said, refused the vaccination because “she just doesn’t trust the government.” He said the two had waived a “considerable” deposit on international travel to a country that would only admit them if they were vaccinated. Either way, he questioned any idea that the bill would contribute to workforce development.

“I just don’t see the correlation,” Lang said.

Michelle Cotterman, then president of anti-vaccine group Health Freedom Ohio, demonstrated outside the home of Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton in the spring. Photo by Katie Forbes.

“Extremely worried”

The Chamber of Commerce, which represents large-scale employers, and the Ohio Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs, argued that the decision on the vaccination mandate should be left to employers.

Pat Tiberi, a former Ohio congressman who now heads the Ohio Business Roundtable, said most of the companies he represents fund their own health insurance programs for their employees. Because they eat the risk of hospital or intensive care treatments ($ 100,000 on average, he said), employers should have the right to require employees to take a vaccine that is clearly safe. and effective in preventing serious COVID-19.

Dale Laws, a Whirlpool manufacturing executive and president of the Ohio Manufacturers Association, said neither the federal nor state governments should hinder employers who know their workplaces and industries the best.

Several public health departments, private hospital networks, medical groups and others have filed written testimony opposing the bill.

“[The Ohio State Medical Association] is extremely concerned about the impact of legislation that would discourage vaccination rates in Ohio, ”said Monica Hueckel, a lobbyist for the doctors’ organization. “This is particularly troubling as the Delta variant continues to spread, the new Omicron variant is starting to appear across the country, and positive COVID-19 cases in Ohio have recently increased.”

A spokesperson for DeWine said on Tuesday that the governor maintained that the federal government should not require anyone to be vaccinated, but that the state government should not prevent employers from doing so. He declined to offer a more specific position on the bill itself.

The bill received support from a member of the Ohio Christian Alliance and several grassroots anti-vaccination activists. However, an anti-vaccination organization, the Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom, criticized the bill for not going far enough.

President Stéphanie Stock lamented in written testimony that she prohibited “discrimination” against people who refused the COVID-19 vaccine but did not deal with similar vaccinations. She also criticized the bill for allowing children’s hospitals to adopt stricter vaccination policies than other healthcare arenas. Stock has spent the majority of the pandemic spreading questionable information about vaccine safety or the alleged ineffectiveness of masks. She recently submitted documents as a first step to garnering the more than 130,000 signatures required to impose a broader mandate ban on vaccines on the general election ballot.

Peterson did not specify any future plans or a timeline for the legislation.

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