An Iowa Senate subcommittee approved a bill that would prohibit daycare centers and schools from requiring COVID vaccinations during Week 9 of the legislative session. The bill already passed the Iowa House.
”As I read the bill, I am fully aware that some will think that we’re reaching down and there are local control issues again as we’ve visited on other bills,” said Republican Sen. Jason Schultz.
Schultz said the bill is a clear reaction to government mandates and now legislators are trying to find balance in the law as we go from pandemic into endemic.
Maddie Wilcox of the Iowa Department of Public Health said the bill would forbid them from requiring the vaccine, which would happen if the state board of health decided to require it. She reminded legislators the board is appointed by the Governor of Iowa.
Chelsea Hoye noted that Des Moines University opposes the bill.
“We have students working in healthcare facilities and hospitals,” she said.
Des Moines University wants to keep the students safe and reduce the spread, she added.
”So this wouldn’t make sense for us.”
Cindy Petersen of Common Good Iowa asked why it is OK to have immunization requirements for other vaccines but not this one.
Bethany Gates testified that a family member had a reaction to the COVID vaccine and expressed support for the bill.
“Where there is risk there must be choice,” she said. “Families should have the right to choose. When you have a family member who is affected it changes your viewpoint a little bit.”
Phil Jeneary of the Iowa Association of School Boards said the organization is neutral and expressed the belief that health decisions should be made with parents and the physician — without putting schools in the middle.
Chaney Yeast of Blank Children’s Hospital spoke in opposition to the bill. She noted the current process works for childhood immunizations.
“We really shouldn’t be creating these carve outs that are different because of a very politicized mitigation effort for COVID-19,” she said. “We know generally that vaccines are safe and effective.”
Yeast acknowledged some people do have reactions to vaccines, but she noted that is why exemptions are in place by law.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended all children five and older receive the vaccine, she added.
“We also have to think about a bill like this that will tie the state’s hands, tie your hands as legislators, for the next variants that we experience,” she said. “We know the Delta variant did not impact children the way the Omicron variant did. We saw the number of kids hospitalized by the Omicron variant was four times higher than the Delta variant.
”You all have a very difficult position of weighing both individual freedoms but also it’s your responsibility to care for the public health of all Iowans.”
Kathryn Kueter of VALOR Iowa and Concerned Women for America supported the bill, noting the COVID-19 vaccine is an experimental drug. Nobody knows the long-term effects the vaccine will have, especially on children, she added.
“This bill does not stop a parent from giving a COVID vaccine to their child,” she said. “It’s just saying they aren’t required to have it.”
Brei Johnson spoke on behalf of Informed Choice Iowa. She mentioned a number of studies that showed a lack of need for vaccination against COVID among children while noting the vaccine has been proven not to stop transmission.
“We do not believe that holding childcare options or education options or children hostage as condition of vaccine status is appropriate,” she said.
Lindsay Maher also spoke in support of the bill on behalf of Informed Choice Iowa. Maher highlighted the fact the vaccine has been proven not to protect others by stopping transmission, something CDC Director Rochelle Walinsky has admitted.
She also said schools do not require the flu shot for attendance and said the COVID vaccine will prove over time to be like a flu shot. She expressed concern about data on myocarditis among young people.
According to Maher, after the initial week the vaccine was rolled out for children, vaccine injury reports for those 12-17 years old quadrupled from 943 to 3,449. The following week saw an increase of 37 percent to 4,750 reports. All told there were 267 serious injuries reported and five deaths.
“That is from the HHS-run system Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System,” she said.
Lina Tucker Reinders spoke against the bill. She said the vaccine is not an experimental drug and that vaccines are highly safety tested and continue to be monitored.
She said with Iowa being eighth in the country for childhood obesity, a lot of Iowa kids carry comorbidities.
Reinders echoed the concerns of Yates about legislators tying their own hands should a future variant be devastating to children.
Yates said every time a child is hospitalized for COVID, the impact financially on families and to the economic prosperity of the state is heavy.
Democrat State Sen. Tony Bisignano said he is against the bill and noted COVID discussions turned political, which is why the vaccine is being treated differently than others.
“This has taken on its own life,” he said.
Bisignano asked why the bill prohibits the vaccine from being required until 2029. Ultimately, though, he expressed concern about local control.
”For someone to say the family should decide, that’s OK,” he said. “Until you come into my daycare center. That’s my business. I have a right — I should — to say who comes in my business. This says no you don’t.”
He discussed growing up with polio and said anyone who doesn’t believe vaccines work lives in an “alternative world.”
”I’m for personal rights until they infringe on mine,” he said. “And I don’t think anybody should tell me who I let in my home to do daycare. If I don’t want children who aren’t vaccinated, that’s my right.”
Schultz said he would sign the bill out of subcommittee. He said he would agree vaccines work, but said people should still have the option to receive them.
“This (vaccine) on the other hand is different,” he said. “This one, I would still personally consider this one Emergency Use Authorization. I would consider it an untested vaccine.”
Schultz said the vaccine likely lowered the severity of the illness, but said it didn’t gain the popular, social, cultural acceptance because it didn’t lower transmission.
Republican Sen. Brad Zaun was scheduled to be on the subcommittee but couldn’t be there.