Proposed law would broadly weaken Ohio vaccine requirements beyond COVID-19

Local lawmakers sponsor bill to ban hospitals and business from requiring vaccination.

Hospitals, nursing homes, and business would not be allowed to require or request people receive any vaccines — not just those for COVID-19 — if a proposed Ohio bill becomes law.

While the bill was introduced in response to COVID-19 vaccines and held up as a way to ward off “vaccine passports,” the proposal has broader implications. The words coronavirus and COVID-19 are not used anywhere in the bill language.

Area health care facilities already commonly mandate some vaccines to protect patients and staff such as vaccines for flu and chickenpox. These policies would be banned if the bill becomes law.

“We have an obligation as health care entities to ensure that we are not the location of spread,” said Sarah Hackenbracht, CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association.

“These are decisions that hospitals need to be able to make within the walls of their institution to protect their patient population, and protect the caregivers,” Hackenbracht added.

The Vaccine Choice and Anti-Discrimination Act would ban public officials, state and local agencies, schools, child care, nursing and assisted living homes, health care providers, insurers, businesses or other organizations from requiring or requesting they get vaccinated, with an exception for the part of Ohio law that requires certain child care or school vaccines.

Under the bill, schools and child care centers that require certain immunizations would need to notify parents of exemptions to vaccine requirements in the same manner that they notify for vaccine requirements.

These groups also wouldn’t be allowed to require someone participate in any system that can track someone’s vaccine status.

State Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester Twp., introduced House Bill 248 in April. It is co-sponsored by 15 other GOP lawmakers, which includes other area legislators such as Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria; Bill Dean, R-Xenia; Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason; and Nino Vitale, R-Urbana.

“Many people across the state may be likely to decline vaccines like the COVID-19 vaccine for conscientious, religious, or medical reasons,” Gross, a nurse practitioner, said in a statement when announcing the legislation. “Without the exemption provisions this bill provides, the notion of a vaccine passport could easily lead to a class system in Ohio where segregation and discrimination will proliferate.”

The proposed change would broadly weaken current vaccine requirements.

Ohio law already allows for school immunization exemptions for medical, religious, or philosophical reasons.

“So in many ways, there’s not really a need for any additional legislation around this issue that would even take this further down the slippery slope,” said Dr. John Duby, vice president of academic affairs, community and behavioral health at Dayton Children’s Hospital.

The bill has opposition from a broad coalition of state organizations in a letter submitted to the Ohio House Health Committee. The letter was co-signed by dozens of groups such as Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Boys & Girls Clubs Ohio Alliance, Ohio Association of Community Health Centers and Ohio Association of Child Care Providers.

Gov. Mike DeWine spoke out against the HB 248 at the end of a Thursday morning press conference.

The bill also has a enough proponents to fill a statehouse hearing with hours of proponent testimony this week that made national headlines as some proponent speakers shared conspiracy theories.

This includes Cleveland-area physician Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, who made national headlines when at the hearing she falsely linked COVID-19 vaccines to making people magnetized. The Center for Countering Digital Hate lists her among a dozen social media users that collectively account for 65% of anti-vaccine misinformation on platforms.

“This has become much bigger than House Bill 248,” Duby said. “It’s turned into a platform for people to spread misinformation that will lead to even more resistance to accepting what we know are very safe and proven effective vaccines.”

What’s Ohio House Bill 248?

The bill would mandate that no person, public official or employee, public agency, state agency, political subdivision (such as a town or township), school, child day-care center, nursing home, residential care facility, health care provider, insurer, institution, or employer can mandate, require or request that someone

  • Disclose the individual’s vaccine status;
  • Participate in a vaccine passport system, vaccine registry, or other mechanism that is designed for the purpose of tracking an individual’s vaccine status;
  • Receive a vaccine
  • Or disclose an individual’s vaccination status.

This bill doesn’t apply to patient care, such as if a primary care doctor asks their patient about vaccinations. The bill also lists an exemption for required school vaccines.

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