Some Ohio lawmakers came back for a House committee hearing on a controversial vaccine bill (HB248) that they knew wouldn’t immediately pass. In fact, no changes were made to the bill and no votes were taken on it. But that didn’t prevent hundreds of Ohioans from gathering at the Statehouse to make their voices heard in one way or another.
Several hundred people gathered outside the Statehouse, holding signs and chanting, to protest what they consider to be discrimination against people who refuse to be vaccinated. Zoe Bouche from Mason said she was there to support the bill that prevents businesses, schools, and other public and private entities from mandating vaccines for employment or entry.
“We are founded on an idea that the power that our government has is based on the consent of the governed. And as you can see here today, there is no consent. Coercion is not consent," Bouche said.
Inside the Statehouse, the House Health Committee heard more than four hours of testimony from both opponents and supporters of the bill, which could ban all mandatory vaccines such as those against childhood diseases and meningitis. The Pfizer COVID shot would be included, even though it’s been given full FDA approval and can now be required in Ohio. Other COVID vaccines could be covered as well. Mainstream medical groups oppose the bill.
But Megan Schultheis, a registered nurse from Columbus, said the bill is needed to protect her and others in the medical field who have chosen not to get vaccinated for COVID.
“If I do happen to be diagnosed with COVID, I have researched other treatment options that are inexpensive, safe, and effective. Why mandate a vaccine if there are other options out there? It comes down to this – every night, people in the health care field allow others to choose their own health interventions, why can’t I?" Schultheis asked.
The bill also bans so-called vaccine passports and would prevent people who are unvaccinated from being denied service, separated, or treated differently from those who have shots. Major business groups, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, are opposed to the bill.
The Republican sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jennifer Gross, was cheered when she stepped into an overflow room at the Statehouse during the testimony.
Attendees laid hands-on Gross and prayed for her before she went back to the committee room where she questioned witnesses who disagreed with her bill – like Sarah Jodka who testified against the bill for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
“Do you believe the person of the business supersedes the individual right of the individual to choose the vaccine and/or coerce the employee to say ‘this job that you have planned and been educated for, you can no longer earn an income because our right supersedes your liberty?” Gross asked.
Jodka, a labor attorney, explained her answer this way.
“Your right to individual medical freedom, your right to hold a fist and punch, ends when you start hurting someone else. And that’s what we are dealing with. We are not dealing with someone’s individual choice of whether they want to do something. We are dealing with them coming into the workplace with a communicable, spreadable disease and hurting other people,” Jodka said.
Jodka explained the bill would lead to businesses not being able to protect their own employees, customers and interests. And she said it would create a lot of expensive and unnecessary litigation.
Health care workers, like Emily Miller, a pediatrician with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said those who work in hospitals like hers are exhausted from caring for sick patients who could be saved with COVID vaccines.
“Only 23% of pregnant women are vaccinated and we know that COVID during pregnancy is bad news. Increased risk of hospital admissions, ICU admission, need to be put on the ventilator, and death. Sometimes the mother is so sick and the virus is doing so much damage that we have to deliver the baby early. This is a baby that would not have been born early otherwise. And if the baby survives, they’ll spend weeks or months in the NICU and there’s no guarantee the mother will survive. Sometimes the other parents is sick too. And I have cared for premature infants in the NICU who lost both parents to COVID.”
Testimony ranged from comments about health and the economy to religion to politics.
Ranking committee member Allison Russo put out a statement after the hearing, saying there was “a lot of vaccine misinformation and conspiracy during testimony”. And Democratic Rep. Beth Liston – who is a doctor – said the bill would lead to more disease and death, and that the hearing “pandered to the conspiracy theorists and extreme groups behind the bill, giving them equal footing with health experts and the business community.
Republican Health Committee chair Scott Lipps said more than a thousand people and groups have offered testimony for and against the bill. And he said this hearing allowed people to be heard so amendments can be proposed for votes when the House returns from its break on September 14.
Speaker Bob Cupp says he and other lawmakers will talk to interested parties to determine what should happen to the bill in the future.