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Vaccine trooferism among state legislators

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Anna Merlan has an excellent piece about the anti-vaxx “Vaccine Bill of Rights” that has already been proposed in at least five state legislatures:

All this aside, the text of the model legislation written by AFLD is a clear expression of what anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine groups—and their allies in state politics—are promoting, successfully, to the public. It implies that the coronavirus is a far lesser threat than government overreach, and that “dangerous” or “rushed” vaccines against COVID are soon to be forced into the unwilling arms of the public—a prediction the anti-vaccine movement has been falsely making for years about other vaccines. It also strongly suggests that the people are, as the text puts it, in danger of being “mandated, coerced, forced or pressured” to get vaccinated.

On a more granular level, AFLD’s model legislation also makes a number of other bizarre and misleading claims. It states that “no COVID vaccine is FDA-approved but some are authorized under a temporary Emergency Use Authorization as experimental (investigational) agents only.” While true, this would suggest to a layperson that the vaccines being given to the public don’t have a track record of safety; in fact, EUAs are weighed carefully before being granted in emergency situations. Respected independent public health bodies like Johns Hopkins have said they’re confident the current vaccines have “a very good safety profile” and that no safety steps were skipped before they were made available to the public. (The EUA, as an aside, also means that even the Pentagon cannot make the COVID vaccines mandatory. In at least one branch of the military, vaccine hesitancy seems high: A recent CNN report found that more than 40% of U.S. Marines have declined the shot.) 

AFLD’s proposed Bill of Rights also claims that it is “neither feasible nor safe to administer experimental vaccines to many groups of patients, such as persons with post-natural infections, waning titers, allergic reactions, as well as childbearing women, etc.”—a statement stuffed with misinformation. Having had a “natural infection” (having, in other words, gotten COVID before) doesn’t make it unsafe to get vaccinated, nor does being a “childbearing woman.” Neither does having “waning titers,” something that’s put in the model bill text with zero explanation, and which made it into the South Carolina version verbatim. (After vaccination, as after a COVID infection, the body produces an antibody response; scientists are still studying how quickly neutralizing antibody titers, which means the amount of antibody concentrated in the blood, fade in people who had severe versus mild COVID cases. Any reasonable person would conclude that “waning titers” would be a good reason to get a vaccination, not one to avoid it, but that’s not the realm this text inhabits.) 

The text of the Bill of Rights is, on top of all of this, focused on making sure people don’t have to show proof of vaccination to enter large gatherings like stadium sports events or concerts. One clause reads “out of state vendors including Ticketmaster, cannot require venue operators and organizers to mandate proof of vaccination from concertgoers and other paying customers before freely entering a venue on private or public property.” In other words, the goal is to make sure that those mounting large events—one of the riskiest possible things to do during a pandemic—should be able to proceed without organizers being able to ask that attendees be vaccinated first. 

Whether or not the model legislation has the votes to pass anywhere, we’ve already seen the underlying values being promoted by Little Trumps like DeSantis: the ludicrous idea that whether or not to take a vaccine is merely an “individual choice” as opposed to one that implicates the health of the entire community, and the similarly bad idea that it’s wrong for any business to require proof of vaccination (something that many employees, including me, have already had to do for other diseases, because it’s a perfectly sensible policy in many contexts.)

With vaccines not too far away from being available to all comers, the organized anti-vaxx movement will be the biggest barrier to herd immunity.

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