Some Georgia senators want to permanently ban schools and most state and local government agencies from requiring people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
In 2022, lawmakers enacted a one-year ban, part of a broader nationwide pushback against orders designed to prevent the spread of the respiratory disease. But that ban expires on June 30 in Georgia if lawmakers do nothing.
On Wednesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 7-2 to advance Senate Bill 1, which makes the ban permanent, to the full Senate.
Sen. Greg Dolezal, a Republican from Cumming who is sponsoring the bill, said that when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine at least, the government should not be able to force anyone to get it.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s role to dictate medical decisions for its citizens, as it comes to this policy,” Dolezal said.
The measure bars state agencies, local governments, schools and colleges from requiring proof of vaccination. But because governments and schools cannot require evidence, they cannot enforce instruction.
Dolezal’s bill originally would have made permanent an existing five-year ban on schools allowing children to wear masks. However, Dolezal said she now plans to introduce a separate bill on the issue.
The Department of Public Health declined to comment on the bill, saying it does not comment on pending legislation.
The Georgia chapters of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians oppose the move, saying it would harm Georgia’s ability to fight the ongoing spread of COVID-19, encouraging the erosion of other existing vaccination requirements, particularly in public schools and colleges. students, and harm Georgia’s ability to fight the coming pandemic.
“A permanent ban sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to the erosion of current school attendance policy requirements for other diseases,” wrote Dr. Angela Highbaugh-Battle and Dr. Melinda Willingham of the Pediatrics Group. “Vaccines are widely recognized as the greatest achievement in recent medical history; and strict school vaccination requirements – enacted in all 50 states – have played a major role in virtually eliminating many vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Committee Chairman Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican and medical doctor, pointed out the difference between COVID-19 and other diseases that students are required to be vaccinated against in order to attend public schools and many colleges. He acknowledged that the vaccine is effective in preventing deaths and hospitalizations, but said it will not prevent people from getting COVID-19. He compared it to the flu vaccine, which may not prevent the flu, and said that there is no need to go to school with the flu shot.
Only one Georgia public school system, in Decatur, attempted to require teachers to be vaccinated before the law passed.
The measure excludes health care facilities that are subject to a federal mandate that their employees be vaccinated in order to continue receiving federal payments.
Some supporters urged lawmakers to move forward. Kristie Minor of Roswell urged the committee to also ban private organizations from requiring people to get vaccinated, as Florida has tried to do.
“Racism continues,” he testified Thursday. “This is a good first step.”
He said that the vaccine against COVID-19 is causing more harm than good to the people. The COVID-19 vaccine can cause complications of heart inflammation, myocarditis or pericarditis, especially in young men. Medical officials and experts say these conditions are rare and usually mild, and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.
Medical experts agree that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and although millions get the shot, confirmed reports of vaccine-related deaths are extremely rare.
More than 1.1 million people in the country have died from COVID-19 since 2020, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including about 3,700 last week. About 42,000 people in Georgia have died from the virus.