A so-called “health freedom” group is touting recently passed state laws crippling government and private sector measures to mitigate the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, on another front, anti-vaxxers are attacking these measures in court.
If their intent is to ensure that COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations remain high among the unvaccinated, they are doing a good job. According to a recent analysis by The Washington Post, while national case numbers and hospitalizations are declining,
adjustments for vaccinations show the rate among susceptible, unvaccinated people is 73 percent higher than the standard figures being publicized. With that adjustment, the national death rate is roughly the same as it was two months ago and is barely inching down. The adjusted hospitalization rate is as high as it was three months ago.
When current hospitalizations are spread across only the unvaccinated population, D.C. and Michigan have rates about twice as high as the adjusted national rate. Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida and Rhode Island have rates about 50 percent higher than the adjusted national hospitalization rate.
And in Washington state,
unvaccinated seniors are 11 times as likely to get hospitalized than seniors who got the shot. For unvaccinated people age 45 to 64, the chance of covid-19 hospitalization is 18 times higher.
Well done, anti-vaxxers.
“Right to Refuse”
National Health Freedom Action and its sister organization, National Health Freedom Coalition, support your “right” to be bamboozled by charlatans with their promotion of so-called “health freedom” laws or, as I prefer to call them, Quack Protection Acts. These laws, passed in eleven states, prohibit the prosecution of quacks for the unlicensed practice of medicine, leaving them free to diagnose and treat the vulnerable and desperately ill with their dangerous nostrums, confident in the knowledge that the state’s authority to hold them responsible has been effectively neutered.
Apparently buoyed by the opportunity presented by the pandemic promote their cause, NHFA has launched a “Right to Refuse” campaign aimed at aiding those who want to increase their chances of coming down with COVID-19 by refusing vaccination. To ensure that their pro-pseudoscience propaganda is spread among people attracted to their anti-public health campaign, “Right to Refuse” includes tracts on how to successfully pass Quack Protection Acts. It also refers readers to the notoriously anti-vaccine National Vaccine Information [actually, misinformation] Center, funded by alternative medicine tycoon Joseph Mercola, for more know-how on anti-vaccination legislation in general.
NHFC recently sent out an email blast congratulating NHFA and its “Right to Refuse” campaign on its success in getting state laws passed designed to hog-tie public and private efforts to combat both the current and future pandemics. (I wrote about a number of pending bills in a March post, some of which, unfortunately, have now been signed into law.) They’ve even named these new laws after themselves, calling them “Right to Refuse laws”. I’m not sure how much of this “success” can actually be attributed to NHFA given the anti-science proclivities among certain politicians eager to please their freedom-loving base, but NHFC did include a handy summary of these freshly-passed state laws in their email, from which I freely borrow.
Several the “Right to Refuse laws” concern so-called “vaccine passports”, that is, written proof of vaccination.
In a new law that, on its face, applies to all immunizations, not just COVID-19, Alabama prohibits state and local governments from issuing vaccine passports and from requiring immunization as a condition of receiving government benefits or services. Likewise, businesses cannot refuse goods or services based on immunization status. Fortunately, there are exceptions for health care providers and hospitals. Alabama colleges and universities must provide exemptions from vaccination requirements to any student or employee with a “bona fide medical condition or religious belief that is contrary to vaccination”, and no student or employee can be required to take a vaccine available only under an FDA emergency use authorization, again with exceptions for those involved in health care.
In Arkansas, state and local government entities can no longer require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 “for any purpose”. In a separate section of the law that does not specify who is governed by its prohibitions, proof of vaccination “shall not be a condition for entry, travel, education, or services.”
Similarly, Florida (my state) will not allow businesses to require that patrons or customers show proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID, nor will it allow educational institutions to require the same from students or residents. State and local governments cannot make “access to, entry upon, or service from” their operations contingent on proof of vaccination. To the chagrin of “Right to Refuse”, health care facilities are exempt and the prohibitions do not apply to employers vis a vis their employees, meaning that, in the kind of histrionic language beloved by anti-vaxxers, “it appears employers may be able to choose to require their employees to be injected”.
Although not mentioned in the NHFC email, the new Florida law also greatly restricts local governments’ authority to require mitigation measures during a public health emergency, including arbitrary times limits that are wholly unrelated to the level of threat presented. The law bestows on the governor the authority to override local orders he personally finds unnecessarily restrictive of “individual rights or liberties”. In turn, in rock-paper-scissors fashion, the state legislature will be able to override a state of emergency declared by the governor.
Per Indiana’s new legislation, state and local governments can neither issue nor require vaccine passports and proof of COVID immunization for driver’s licenses and other state-issued IDs is prohibited. An Iowa law prohibits state and local governments from requiring proof of immunization as well. Like Florida, Iowa bans businesses from requiring proof of immunization for patrons or others entering their premises, but this does not apply to their employees. Public and private health care facilities are exempt. Another Iowa law restricts the ability of school boards and local governments to require face masks. Utah also exempts those engaged in health care activities from its recently enacted prohibition against state and local governments requiring any COVID-19 vaccine, a prohibition that lasts only as long as the vaccine lacks full FDA approval. Like Alabama, Utah also enacted a law aimed at student vaccinations required by institutions of higher learning, adding a personal belief exemption. Unvaccinated students cannot be required to choose remote learning over in-person classes.
Montana, in one of the more sweeping new laws, couches its prohibitions in terms of “discrimination” and applies them to all immunizations except those required by schools and day care centers. There is also a blanket prohibition against requiring anyone to receive “any vaccine whose use is allowed under an emergency use authorization or any vaccine undergoing safety trials”.
Thus, it is an “unlawful discriminatory practice” for any person or governmental entity to refuse or deny anyone
any local or state services, goods, facilities, advantages, privileges, licensing, educational opportunities, health care access, or employment opportunities based on the person’s vaccination status or whether the person has an immunity passport.
Similar provisions apply to public accommodations.
Employers cannot require employees to be vaccinated or “discriminate” against them regarding terms and conditions of employment based on vaccination status. It is unclear whether the employer would be prohibited from inquiring whether the employee is vaccinated or from requiring masks and other mitigation measures of unvaccinated employees. That uncertainty alone could cause some employers to forego any such requirements. Health care facilities are permitted ask whether employees are vaccinated, but only to the extent it is necessary to implement “reasonable accommodation measures” for other employees, patients, and visitors to protect them from communicable diseases. Nursing homes are also exempt to the extent they are required to comply with federal government guidelines.
Ohio also enacted sweeping new legislation, but with a different tack, making virtually all emergency actions subject to legislative review, rescission, or invalidation. Gov. DeWine vetoed the bill but the legislature overrode his veto.
The new law time-limits any state of emergency declared by the governor to 90 days, with extensions granted by the legislature, although the legislature can end any state of emergency earlier if it wants. The legislature can rescind or invalidate any rule issued by an administrative agency (the state health department, for example) in response to a declared state of emergency.
The law also requires the governor and the state health department to report to the legislature every action they or their representatives take in response to the state of emergency and any such action is immediately subject to legislative review, rescission, or invalidation, in whole or in part. As well, it significantly restricts, but does not eliminate, the authority of local health departments regarding quarantine orders, school closures, and gathering bans.
In a resolution, Louisiana’s legislature declared that day care centers and schools (including colleges and universities) must inform students that the COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for emergency use only, has not been fully approved by the FDA, and that they have a right to refuse the vaccine. Students must also be told, falsely that the vaccine is “experimental”. (A resolution such as this can, at best, direct a state agency to take certain actions, but does not have the force of law, so I’m not sure how effective this will be.)
In an even more legally meaningless (but undoubtedly base-pleasing) action, falsely stating that “measures are being considered to mandate experimental vaccination”, the North Dakota legislature passed a resolution urging Congress not to issue vaccine passports or enact any law that would “restrain an individual’s right to travel or participate in commerce, religious freedom, and education based on whether the individual has received a COVID-19 vaccine”.
Alaska’s legislature gave everyone a right to refuse the COVID-19 vaccination “based on religious, medical, or other grounds”, with no exception that I can find for employers requiring employee vaccinations or medical facilities. Similarly, a new law in Kentucky provides religious and “conscientiously held beliefs” exemptions to any immunization required by the state during an epidemic.
In addition to the state legislatures, anti-vaxxers are turning to the courts to attack COVID-19 vaccines. As reported in the Washington Post (in an article well worth reading in its entirety), anti-vaccine careerists Del Bigtree and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. are chumming up cases to challenge employer and school vaccine mandates, aided by a New York law firm, Siri & Glimstead. Bigtree’s outfit, the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), which paid the firm nearly $1.3 million in 2019, “has advertised Siri & Glimstad’s services and sought plaintiffs for challenges to mandates”. Kennedy’s anti-vaxx group, the Children’s Health Defense, is helping spread the word by running an ad:
If you or anyone you know is being required by an employer or school to receive a covid-19 vaccine, ICAN is offering to support legal action on your behalf to challenge the requirement.
Of course, employers like a county-owned skilled nursing facility in Wisconsin and the Durham County (N.C.) Sheriff’s Department, both the subject of litigation threats over their vaccination requirements for employees, can ill afford budget-draining litigation, which may, as the article points out, lead to their backing off. This, in turn, could have a chilling effect on other employers who want their employees vaccinated against COVID.
Fortunately, Rutgers and Princeton are not so cowed. According to the Post, both have received letters from Siri & Glimstead but are holding firm. Said a Princeton rep,
We conducted a careful review and are confident in our legal position.
The Post also reports that “ICAN’s legal team remains active on other vaccine-related fronts”. Siri & Glimstead have filed a complaint on ICAN’s behalf “asking a federal court to order Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to remove the finding that ‘vaccines do not cause autism’ from all communications with the public”.
That one deserves its own SBM post. Stay tuned.