GREENVILLE — Although the mandates for “masking up” have (for the most part) been lifted across the state, still many Ohioans seem to be confronted with the same question everywhere they go: Have you taken the COVID vaccine?
Although voluntary, one’s “vaccination status” has increasingly become the new standard by which to judge responsible citizenship, leaving little room for reasonable objections or questions surrounding vaccine safety. In this new age of hyper-COVID awareness, one’s right to refuse the jab is met with many reactions — passive indifference, social pressure, ridicule and open hostility.
Questionable employment protocols, admissions policies, and business practices have motivated some members of the Ohio House to draft legislation to safeguard the individual’s right to choose against potential discrimination and government overreach.
Earlier this month, the Darke County Republican Women’s Club (DCRWC) invited the Darke County residents to learn more about HB 248, also known as “The Vaccine Choice & Anti-Discrimination Act,” and hear from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Gross (R- West Chester) and co-sponsor, Rep. Rodney Creech (R- West Alexandria). Also on the panel were supporters Rep. Susan Manchester (R-Waynesfield) and Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum).
Dignitaries in attendance at the meeting were Ben Thaeler, District Director for U.S. Congressman Warren Davidson (OH-8); Hon. Mary Katherine Huffman, Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas; Hon. Ronald C. Lewis, Xenia Municipal Court; Erik Blaine, Attorney and UD School of Law Adjunct Professor; Cindy Pike, Darke County Clerk of Courts, and Greenville City Council members Jeff Whittaker and Delores Ely.
First to speak was HB-248 sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Gross, a 21- year U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel, serving her first term in the Ohio House of Representatives. Gross, who is been a Family Nurse Practitioner for 16 years, participated as a sub-investigator of Operation WARP speed, developing treatments to help battle COVID-19. Although Gross, herself, is pro-vaccine and values the progress that the medical field has made, she stressed that the purpose of H.B. 248 is to protect medical choice and medical freedom.
“There are eleven and a half million people in Ohio. Many people across the state may be likely to decline vaccines like the COVID-19 vaccine for conscientious, religious, or medical reasons. Without the exemption provisions this bill provides, the notion of a vaccine passport could easily lead to a class system in Ohio where segregation and discrimination will proliferate,” said Gross.
According to Gross, H.B. 248 does not prohibit mandatory vaccines – instead, the bill allows for all individuals to have three exemptions to all vaccines. In addition, the bill authorizes an individual to bring a civil action if the individual believes a violation has occurred.
Co-sponsor Rep. Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria) echoed these concerns with regard to safeguarding fundamental freedoms enjoyed by all Ohioans. “It comes down to we have to do what’s right for our families…There is no such thing as a ‘perfect bill;’ it will be rewritten, reworked and amended. But we must have it for preserving our freedoms. The second largest employer in Preble County had a sign that read, ‘If you’re vaccinated, you’re welcome… no mask required; if you’re not, no admittance’.”
According to Creech, HB 248 raises additional questions.
“Where is our medical community on this issue? What do you do if you are bound to your job, and your employer says you are required to get the vaccine? If we don’t pass this bill now, the situation will get worse,” said Creech. “Don’t let your legislators talk around the issue.”
“HB 248 does not abolish any childhood vaccines. 14 are required in the State,” said Gross, “But it does require that parents are told about the exemptions that exist…medical, religious, or conscience reasons. The U.S. Department of Immigration grants these three exemptions to those entering the country. Why are Ohioans not afforded these same exemptions – at work, play or at school — without coercion or infringement?” asked Gross.
Rep. Susan Manchester (R- Waynesfield) also commented on the ongoing controversy surrounding the issue of vaccine mandates. “Discussion has been good in the Ohio House Health Committee, and informed decision-making is important. But freedom… with the COVID vaccine, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to get Ohioans to take this vaccine,” said Manchester. “As legislators, we are under tremendous pressure.”
Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) agreed, highlighting her full support for HB 248, noting an observation that the COVID data has been “grossly inaccurate,” especially with testing and reporting protocols.
“The Vax-A-Million lottery was started because the Ohio Legislature shut Gov. DeWine down,” said Powell. “This is one of the top 10 bills in the State House. It isn’t about whether vaccines work or not. That’s not my decision. But people are in tears calling our offices saying that their freedoms are at stake… with (the possibility of) forced vaccinations and passports.”
Powell went on to add, “This is why we need limited government…At the end of the day, being a politician is a service to the people. We are elected to serve.”
With more thn 1,000 submitted testimonies from Ohioans who have been affected by the COVID vaccines and others, the Ohio House Health Committee has scheduled more meetings, with new amendments proposed.
A similar corresponding bill in the Ohio Senate, SB 111, which would prohibit certain mandatory vaccines [not fully approved by the FDA] and other activities related to an individuals vaccination status, has also been co-sponsored by Gross and Creech. The amended SB 111 was passed in the House last Thurs., June 24, 2021.
“The Medical Freedom movement is a grassroots movement,” said Manchester, whose sentiments were applauded by the panel and audience.
Gross agreed. “No one has the right to ask you what to do with your medical information. This bill is not about whether vaccines work or not. It’s about whether or not you decide what goes in your body. People are watching Ohio, and what happens here.”
Questions or concerns about HB 248? Email Rep. Jennifer Gross at: [email protected] or visit ohiohouse.gov/members/jennifer-gross/news.