INDIANAPOLIS – A clash between the public good and individual liberties played out in a Senate committee room Wednesday as a legislative panel considered a bill that would largely ban companies from requiring any immunizations.
The COVID-19 vaccine is the immediate concern, but the legislation would impact all vaccinations.
Indiana employers can legally require workers to be vaccinated for all types of diseases currently – from the measles and the mumps to the flu. There are exemptions for those with medical conditions or who have sincerely held religious beliefs.
But Auburn GOP Sen. Dennis Kruse's bill goes further – saying an employer can't force a vaccination against a person's “conscience.”
He said the phrase is vital because federal and state law already covers the other objections.
“The word conscience is the essence of the bill,” Kruse said. “My feeling is personal liberty and freedom of choice is the main thing I am putting forward in this bill.”
There was specific concern relating to the health care industry as hospitals, doctor's offices and nursing homes often require employees to have vaccinations.
“People shouldn't be dying because health care workers don't have vaccines,” Katie Van Tornhout said.
She said her month-old baby girl died after contact with an asymptomatic nurse with pertussis, or whooping cough.
Patrick Glew of the Indiana Immunization Coalition said the bill is far too broad because it applies to polio, measles and other vaccines that have worked for decades. He said nurses and doctors without vaccinations would put people at risk.
“This would set a precedent for all vaccines all across the state and could set us up for outbreaks, which are extremely costly,” he said.
But many others pointed to their right to control their own bodies.
Joan Billman said she, her husband and her family will decline the COVID-19 vaccination.
“Will we be punished?” she asked, saying she won't take that chance on the vaccine for a virus with a high recovery rate. “The people of Indiana are tired of being told what they can and can't do.”
Sandy Spaetti also noted that the COVID-19 vaccine only had a few months' worth of trials and is being given under an emergency use authorization.
“No one should have to choose between being able to work and support their family and the risk of taking a vaccine that is largely untested,” she said.
But Mike Ripley of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said companies have a right to control the safety of their property – “employers have liberty as well.”
Several senators expressed interest in narrowing the bill to only apply to the COVID-19 vaccine. Amendments and a vote could come next week.