As the world contends with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19, getting more people vaccinated and boosted is all the more essential. Unfortunately, however, many state legislatures have presented a slew of anti-vaccine legislation—and this seems unlikely to change in 2022. "Over 1,300 vaccine-related bills, many of which discourage vaccination" are currently being considered by state legislatures across the country, according to BIO VP for State Government Affairs, Patrick Plues.
Anti-vaccine legislation, by categories and states
Three main categories of anti-vaccine bills include:
- Banning the mandating of vaccination by employers and government services providers.
- Banning schools from mandating masks and/or proof of vaccination.
- Banning vaccine passports from being mandated to attend major sporting and entertainment events as well as to travel into a state.
Such bills have been enacted in 16 states: Alabama (SB 267), Arkansas (HB 1547, SB 615), Arizona (SB 615, SB 1824, HB 2898, HB 2897/SB 1878), Florida (SB 2006), Iowa (HF 889), Indiana (HB 1405), Kansas (SB 159), Missouri (SB 271), Montana (HB 702), New Hampshire (HB 220), North Dakota (HB 1465, SCR 4016), Ohio (HB 244), Oklahoma (SB 658), Tennessee (HB 13/SB 187, HB 575/SB 858), Texas (SB 968), and Utah (HB 308).
Legislation regarding government mandates around vaccines has become a “political lightning rod,” according to Plues. Legislatures in conservative-leaning states are “pushing back on the Biden administration’s mandate on vaccines, spurring more activity from conservative legislatures to get bills introduced that would block the federal mandate in their states,” he told us.
Vaccine exemptions beyond COVID-19
Much of the vaccine-related legislation in 2021 focused specifically on carving out space for exemptions to vaccine mandates and vaccine passports related to COVID-19. Looking ahead to 2022, Plues stated that there is now “a push to go beyond COVID-19 vaccines, and look at ways to increase exemptions for school immunization, which is concerning.”
There have long been medical exemptions to immunization for schooling. However, some states have enacted or plan to enact legislation to increase exemptions for philosophical and religious reasons; these have prompted measles outbreaks in recent years that have not been seen before, per Plues.
Some states are now looking to carve out vaccine exemptions for vaccinations in general, beyond the current push of COVID-19 vaccination exemption.
“The vast majority of [state] legislators believe in immunization,” Plues emphasized. BIO continues to work to explain why keeping strong school vaccine mandates in place are important for public health.
Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Beyond
In Ohio, there was a recently an attempt at a ballot initiative to force schools to accept students who are not-vaccinated due to personal choice (and not for health reasons). While the initiative was shut down by the state’s attorney general, it will likely be reformulated and presented once again for consideration either in May or November of next year.
In Pennsylvania, there is legislation under consideration to enshrine the right to not be vaccinated into law as a part of the state’s constitution. However, given how difficult it is to change the state’s constitution, this effort could drag into next year and ultimately be unsuccessful.
Omicron and Midterm Elections
With the dueling realities of the Omicron variant and midterm elections coming up, Plues believes that legislators proposing anti-vaccine legislation will “dig their heels in even more,” as evidenced by such legislation continuing to be proposed even during the rise of the Delta variant of COVID-19.
“Every time the Biden administration comes out with a new policy to address the pandemic, you have the other side of the aisle pushing back on it in some way, shape, or form,” Plues stated.
“Thankfully, most voters recognize the need for immunization and will get the shots regardless.”
Do you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines? Visit www.COVIDVaccineFacts.org.