Editorial: Lawmakers should encourage vaccinations

Sometimes, doing nothing is the best thing our legislature does.

Case in point: The Indiana General Assembly last week reversed a dangerous course and backed off a planned vote on legislation that would have restricted employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates and knocked down vaccine mandates such as the one Indiana University imposed that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to disturb.

The decision not to proceed with awful public policy came after seven hours of public testimony. Many wondered why lawmakers were rushing a bill outside normal processes as COVID cases surged (again) and challenges to the federal vaccine mandate are working their way through the courts.

As the Indianapolis Business Journal reported, House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, “cited a number of reasons why they backtracked on the plan to fast-track the bill, including several concerns brought up from people who testified[.] … Leaders in the business and medical communities said the bill’s vaccine restrictions went too far. But several individuals with fears of losing their jobs for refusing the vaccine and general vaccine objectors said the bill did not do enough.”

“Over the next month, we’ll continue to listen and talk with stakeholders about our policy proposals, and we’ll file legislation in the near future. Hoosiers can rest assured that we’ll hit the ground running come Jan. 4,” Huston said in a statement.

Lawmaking where Hoosiers’ health is concerned should be deliberate, serious and evidence-based. Statehouse leaders wisely hit the brakes on a process that was none of those. Too many lawmakers are disregarding wise public policy in service of ill-formed arguments about personal freedom.

Let’s be clear: No one is required by law to get a COVID vaccine, and no one will lose their freedom for refusing to get one.

Now, you may have to get vaccinated to keep your job if your employer requires you to be vaccinated, but that has nothing to do with personal freedom. You have the personal freedom to quit your job if refusing a vaccine requirement means that much to you.

The truth is, jobs may require all sorts of things that employees do not have the personal freedom to shrug off — things like specified levels of training, licensing and insurance. Vaccine mandates likewise are policies instituted to protect the public. It’s perfectly sensible, for instance, that healthcare workers be vaccinated. The aim is to protect the most people and curb a virus that has (so far) killed 777,000 Americans and more than 17,000 Hoosiers. Vaccines are our best shot at doing that.

We understand everyone is exhausted by this pandemic. But lawmaking out of frustration is irresponsible, especially now. Jerome Adams, the former Indiana health commissioner who served as surgeon general under President Donald Trump, said this about COVID cases: “It’s no longer a matter of if we’re going to have a winter surge, it’s how bad it’s going to be.”

Rather than looking for ways for anyone to opt out of a vaccine mandate for any reason, our lawmakers should encourage and incentivize Hoosiers to get vaccinated. That’s the responsible path forward in the public’s best interest.

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