DES MOINES — An Iowa lawmaker posed a series of anti-vaccination questions to one of the state’s top public health experts Tuesday during a hearing on a proposal to bar businesses from requiring employees to be vaccinated.
Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, chaired the Senate hearing on the legislation, which would bar businesses, including hospitals and other health care providers, from using people’s vaccination history to determine employment. The bill also would allow students to seek exemptions from school vaccine requirements.
The bill was introduced as the COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed throughout the country.
Such hearings typically feature rapid-fire comments from dozens of organizations and individuals interested in a bill. Tuesday’s hearing for a time featured Carlin asking a series of questions from an anti-vaccination former health care worker who said she quit her job because she refused to receive the flu shot. Carlin then grilled Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state epidemiologist.
Carlin said he has seen cases where vaccinations have led to personal injury, and asked Pedati questions like why chronic disease appears to be more prevalent, and why autism is more frequently diagnosed than when he was a student.
Pedati told Carlin that vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, are run through rigorous testing processes to ensure they are safe and effective, not only before development but also after. She said vaccines are “absolutely critical public health tools.”
“What’s important to know is the benefit, and the impact of these really awful diseases that used to spread widespread disease and death,” Pedati said. “Children used to die routinely of diseases that I’ve never seen before because of vaccines. … Vaccines continue to be a critical and remarkable life-saving tool that I think are incredibly important in keeping people safe and healthy here.”
The rest of the hearing’s public comment period featured a mixture of people who supported the legislation — largely stating their concerns with vaccinations in general — and public health and infectious disease experts who relayed the important role of vaccines in fighting infectious diseases.
Carlin said his proposal aims to balance the interests of businesses and health care facilities that want their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine against “a person’s legitimate interest in having autonomy over their own body.”
He also expressed concern that businesses would use information in a state database to determine whether Iowans have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and use that information to prevent anyone who has not received the vaccine from patronizing or working at their business.
A state public health department official said businesses would not have access to any state database with that kind of personal health information.
Carlin, who on Monday announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Chuck Grassley, said he appreciates “both sides” of the debate, from medical and public health experts who are concerned about the spread of a deadly virus and people who believe every individual should have the right to determine whether they receive a vaccine.
Carlin and Sen. Mark Costello, a Republican from Imogene, said they have received an outpouring of public support for the legislation. They voted to move the legislation on to the next step in the process: Senate File 193 [https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=SF193] is now eligible for consideration by the Senate Committee on Commerce.
Sen. Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, declined to support the legislation.
A similar bill, House File 330, [https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=HF330] has been introduced in the House.