A Republican state senator falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines are ineffective and called the idea of requiring them the “political belief of authoritarians who want to force their belief in… the hive-mindset,” just before the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that bans COVID-19 vaccine requirements at schools, universities and child care facilities.
Sen. Jason Schultz of Schleswig made his remarks as the judiciary committee considered HF 2298 on Wednesday afternoon. That bill “prohibits requiring an immunization against COVID-19 for a person to be enrolled in any licensed child care center, elementary or secondary school, or postsecondary school in Iowa prior to July 1, 2029.” HF 2298 was approved by the Iowa House on Feb. 28, with only Republicans voting in favor of it.
Opposition to the bill in the committee was led by Sen. Joe Bolkcom. The Iowa City Democrat said HF 2298 promoted the false belief that “a safe, effective vaccine that nearly 1.9 million Iowans have taken advantage of” is dangerous. Politically motivated opposition to COVID-19 vaccinations “continues to erode public confidence in safe, effective vaccinations for things like mumps, measles, rubella, polio, whooping cough, diphtheria,” according to Bolkcom.
The senator pointed to a new Iowa Poll published by the Des Moines Register that showed support for the standard vaccinations Iowa school children are currently required to have has declined substantially. In 2015, the poll found that 59 percent of Iowans supported required vaccinations for school enrollment. In the poll released on Sunday, that number dropped to 34 percent. The new poll also found the number of people who say the state should have no laws at all regarding vaccinations had increased to 28 percent. In 2015, only 16 percent of respondents expressed that belief.
“The trend is terrible,” Bolkcom said.
Schultz, the Senate manager for HF 2298, dismissed those concerns.
“I move this bill because we have to move past this, and we have to get past the semi-quasi-science clergy who have turned what used to be a respected industry, the science industry, into more a club to beat people over the head,” Schultz said.
According to Schultz, “We need to put to rest that the COVID vaccine is an effective and safe vaccine. It is an attempt that didn’t work.”
None of Schultz’s Republican colleagues on the committee spoke on the bill during the committee session, and so far none have addressed Schultz’s false claims about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. Immediately after Schultz made his comments, all of the committee’s Republican majority voted to approve the bill and the Democrats voted against it. The bill now goes to the Senate floor for final approval.
While HF 2298 advanced in the Senate, another effort seeking to ban COVID-19 vaccination requirements was defeated in the Iowa House on Wednesday, when 12 Republicans joined all the chamber’s Democrats to oppose it.
The proposal would have stripped schools, local governments and private businesses of their ability to require mask wearing, COVID-19 testing or vaccination against COVID-19. It would have created a $50,000 fine for employers who fire someone for refusing to be vaccinated. The proposal was put forth by House Republican leaders as an amendment to a bill to limits damage awards in lawsuits resulting from accidents involving commercial vehicles, despite legislative rules that amendments must be germane to the bills to which they are attached.
The 12 Republicans who voted no include some of the House’s most conservative members, such as Rep. Sandy Salmon of Janesville and Rep. Jeff Shipley of Birmingham. After the vote, Shipley said he objected to the narrowness of the ban and felt it should apply to other vaccine requirements.
“I think there’s other ways to address it more comprehensively,” Shipley explained. “It was COVID-19 specific, and there is other discrimination occurring. So why aren’t we addressing the issue of, can you discriminate on the basis of a flu vaccine?”
After the Senate’s 40 Democrats and the 12 Republicans defeated a motion to suspend House rules to allow the amendment, Speaker Pat Grassley deferred action on the bill, which will allow it to be reintroduced again later in the session.
Also on Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health released its latest COVID-19 update, which showed the number of new cases continues to fall from the heights reached during the Omicron-fueled surge earlier this year. According to IDPH, 1,111 more Iowans tested positive for the virus in the latest seven-day reporting period.
IDPH no longer reports the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state, but according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ hospital utilization tracker, there were 112 in Iowa hospitals on Wednesday.
In its update, IDPH disclosed another 87 deaths from the virus, bringing the state’s official COVID-19 death toll to 9,349.