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Ohio Republicans look to ease state’s vaccine laws with backing of anti-vaxxers

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 11:11 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVG) - A group of more than 50 healthcare providers and business organizations are adamantly against an Ohio GOP proposal to scale back the state’s vaccine laws. But the bill’s sponsor called it “an honor” to hear testimony in support of the bill from a prominent anti-vaccination advocate who floated baseless conspiracy theories and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine to lawmakers, including claims that the shot makes people magnetic, and children who are around vaccinated teachers are bleeding from the eyes and nose.

House Bill 248 would prevent businesses and schools from requiring vaccines.

The proposal comes as Ohio tries to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, but coronavirus is not mentioned in the bill. The legislation would encompass all vaccines

Healthcare providers across Ohio sent a letter to lawmakers warning the bill would “destroy our current public health framework” and has the “potential to reverse decades of immunity from life-threatening, but vaccine-preventable diseases” such as measles, mumps, hepatitis, meningitis, and tuberculosis.”

The group, which includes the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, Ohio State Medical Association, and Ohio Association of Child Care Providers, also point out in their letter that Ohio law already allows for school immunization exemptions for medical, religious, or philosophical reasons. “Most businesses allow for flexibility in regard to vaccinations,” they said.

Hundreds of people showed up at the Ohio statehouse on Tuesday to support the legislation. During testimony, part of the group had to move to an overflow room. Cheers could be heard from the main committee room during certain points of the testimony from anti-vaccination advocates.

Cleveland-area Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, who is not affiliated with a hospital or emergency room and does not do bench research in medicine, was among 500 people who submitted testimony to the Ohio House Health Committee Tuesday in support of the bill.

Rep. Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester), the bill’s sponsor, praised Tenpenny after she stated her case for the bill and proceeded to share, without evidence, claims about the COVID-19 vaccine, including one linked to 5G towers.

“What an honor to have you here,” Gross said. “As the bill’s sponsor, I am very honored.”

Tenpenny’s website, which includes a pop-up ad to order a $5 bottle of “calm pet CBD oil” from her shop, features the quote attributed to her, “Vaccines do NOT prevent infections but DO cause disease.”

Doctors across the country, including Ohio Chief Medical Officer Bruce Vanderhoff, have warned of the dangers of COVID-19 vaccine disinformation campaigns.

“Sadly, the internet is rife with misinformation,” Vanderhoff said Monday. “These ideas are completely false and simply not based in science or reality.”

Still, Tenpenny’s platform was elevated Tuesday when she was invited to testify. During her time, she also spoke out against a push to get her and other anti-vaxxers deplatformed from social media sites.

Congressional lawmakers are urging the platforms to remove the “Disinformation Dozen,” a group that is identified as having the largest impact on vaccine disinformation. That group includes Tenpenny, a badge she wears proudly. The group produces 65% of all anti-vaccine content on social media, according to a study by the Center for Digital Hate, which developed the “Disinformation Dozen” list.

She and others who supported the legislation to roll back Ohio’s vaccine laws, said they should have the freedom to choose what they do with their bodies.

“That should be my right to bodily autonomy and what I can do with my God-given body,” Tenpenny said.

Jim Moody, a Washington D.C.-based attorney, echoed Tenpenny’s statements, adding we should “let our bodies” protect ourselves because “without our body’s immune system, we would be gray goo in two or three days.

“If this takes hold and there is a widespread use of asking businesses to practice medicine, then it won’t be much longer until businesses are asking you if you have a gun at home,” Moody said.

Rep. Allison Russo (D-Columbus) stressed during the hearing that there is no law requiring vaccine passports in Ohio, nor do businesses have to require any vaccines.

“I agree there are no requirements by the state,” said Rep. Scott Lipps (R-Franklin) “But there are businesses discriminating by having some employees go to the left and some employees go to the right, so if you’re saying discrimination isn’t occurring, I would have to take question with that.”

He also made sure committee members knew he was uncomfortable when Tom Renz, another attorney in favor of the legislation, asked members rhetorically if they had been vaccinated during his testimony.

“When you took the podium and asked, ‘Are you vaccinated?’ It was a game-changer,” Lipps said. “If you think about the thousands of Ohio employees that face that question, because it made me uncomfortable.”

5.4 million Ohioans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Cases in the state have plummeted since the early spring. The vaccines are effective, with the CDC saying around 0.007% of fully-vaccinated Americans have reported becoming infected.

Still, they continue to tackle a wave of vaccine disinformation campaigns, with warnings of “disastrous consequences” if Ohio lawmakers pass House Bill 248.

“If we don’t trust science, if we don’t trust our medical professionals, we will be back in a resurgence situation,” said Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown).

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