Missouri advances measure limiting vaccines

Tribune Content Agency

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House approved an anti-vaccination measure Tuesday that could tie the hands of health professionals to address future pandemics.

The proposal, sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Hardwick of Waynesville, would bar governments from being able to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine or future potential medical technologies like microchips placed under someone’s skin.

The measure would require private employers, including small business owners, to provide exemptions to any vaccination requirements if an employee has a “sincere” religious belief about the health benefits of a vaccine.

Hardwick, who is among a number of Republicans who complained about personal freedom during the height of the local, state and national response to a rapidly spreading disease, also said children would not have to be vaccinated in order to go to school under his legislation.

There also would be exemptions for health care workers and facilities if approved.

“I feel like it’s the right thing to do,” said Hardwick, who unsuccessfully pushed for a similar plan last year.

Hardwick said he believes some people “lost their minds” in the scramble to deal with the coronavirus.

The renewed push comes after more than 23,000 Missourians died from complications related to the respiratory virus. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reports that 464 people currently are hospitalized with COVID-19.

Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City, called the proposal “absolutely insane.”

“We have got to be able to, as business owners, make those decisions for ourselves,” Aune said.

Business groups also oppose the measure.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry said businesses should decide on their vaccination policies.

“Missouri has a free enterprise system, so we do not believe that government should be intervening in businesses’ legal right to require vaccines in the workplace. Every employer is different, and they’re going to know best how to run their business,” said Kara Corches, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber.

“Every lobbying group in the state of Missouri is opposed to this bill,” Hardwick acknowledged.

Rep. Barbara Phifer, D-Kirkwood, said the law will remove flexibility needed to respond to the threat of a major disease outbreak.

“What concerns me is what happens with the next pandemic,” Phifer said. “There are times when we have to be nimble.”

The measure needs another vote in the House before moving to the Senate for further debate.

The legislation is House Bill 700.