Will Ohio Republicans Nuke Their Own Pandemic Recovery?

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    Will Ohio Republicans Nuke Their Own Pandemic Recovery?

    One of the biggest challenges to America’s mass vaccination effort aimed at ending the deadliest pandemic in a century has been a large percentage of Republicans unwilling to receive the vaccine. Due to conspiracy-mongering about the COVID-19 vaccine being spread on fringe websites, social media, and mainstream right-wing outlets like Fox News, red states, in particular, are struggling to inoculate their populations on pace with the rest of the U.S.

    To confront this obstacle, Ohio governor Mike DeWine launched the “Vax-a-Million” lottery program—a weekly drawing that is set to give away $1 million to one vaccinated adult and offer a full college scholarship to a minor who receives the vaccine. The prize money and tuition costs, which will be paid for by federal coronavirus stimulus dollars, will begin Wednesday night and proceed for five weeks, meaning that a total of five adults and five children ages 12-17 will be randomly selected from the pool of vaccinated Ohioans. The lottery, DeWine said Wednesday on CNN’s New Day, has helped boost the state’s vaccination rate by 45%. “We need to save lives,” he said. “We need to get Ohio moving forward. The way we do it is through vaccines. This is our ticket out of the pandemic.”

    But DeWine is now running into another roadblock on Ohio’s path to pandemic recovery: State lawmakers are now trying to end the governor’s successful vaccine encouragement program and pass a bill that would severely limit all vaccination laws in the state. In House Bill 248, Republican state lawmakers are making Ohio the next big battleground for the anti-vaxxer movement under the guise that they are fighting against “vaccine passport” requirements. The legislation, if passed, would allow state residents to opt out of ever being vaccinated. The bill’s Republican sponsor, State Representative Jennifer Gross, stated that she and her colleagues are seeking to “protect Ohioans from forced vaccination whether it comes from the government, school, an employer, or even a local retailer,” via a sweeping anti-vaccine overhaul of Ohio’s health mandates.

    According to the The Columbia Dispatch, the legislation includes barring business owners from instituting immunization policies for employees; forcing public bodies like schools and government offices to inform staff of their vaccine-exemption rights; and requiring schools to instruct parents on how they can cite medical reasons or “reasons of conscience, including religious convictions” to avoid having their enrolled children vaccinated. While emphasizing the bill’s opposition to vaccination registries and passports, Gross stated, “Many people across the state may be likely to decline vaccines like the COVID-19 vaccine for conscientious, religious, or medical reasons. 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.” In a Tuesday statement issued by the Ohio Association of Health Plans, the group’s spokesperson Dan Williamson asserted the bill “would put all Ohioans at risk while increasing the cost of health care for families, individuals, and businesses.” Williamson added that this legislation does not stop at the COVID-19 vaccine. “This proposal applies to all immunizations, including childhood vaccines. If passed, this legislation could reverse decades of immunity from life-threatening but vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, hepatitis, meningitis, and tuberculosis,” he said.

    Democratic State Representative Beth Liston has condemned the bill, saying, “Not only would it prevent schools, businesses, and communities from putting safety measures in pace related to COVID, it will impact the health of our children,” per the Dispatch. Liston went on to warn that if it “becomes law we will see worsening measles outbreaks, meningitis in the dorms, and children once again suffering from polio.” DeWine has avoided taking a public stance on H.B. 248. When asked about it on Monday, the governor responded in vague terms. “What we’ve lived with in Ohio as far as the exemptions, as far as people’s ability to exempt out of things, it seems to have worked pretty well,” DeWine said, according to the Dispatch. As for the governor’s “Vax-a-Million” program, Republican state Representative Jena Powell has said she is in the process of proposing legislation to shut down DeWine’s effective vaccination drive, a version of which is already being copied in Colorado.

    Unhinged fears about the vaccine—and those who have received it—have spread across the country and are being dangerously acted upon in some hyperlocal settings. In Miami, Florida, a private school announced last month that it is refusing to onboard anyone who has been vaccinated for COVID-19 “until more information is known.” Centner Academy explained the decision in a memo advising parents and staff to hold off on getting their doses. “Those who do wish to be vaccinated are asked to wait until the end of the school year,” the letter stated. “It was a consensus from our advisors that until this topic is investigated more thoroughly, it is in the best interests of the children to protect them from the unknown implications of being in close proximity for the entire day with a teacher who has very recently taken the COVID-19 injection.”

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    Published at Wed, 26 May 2021 23:26:57 +0000

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