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With COVID-19 deaths in Missouri topping 3,800, anti-vaccination proposal surfaces

With COVID-19 deaths in Missouri topping 3,800, anti-vaccination proposal surfaces

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JEFFERSON CITY — At the same time health experts and public officials are banking on a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, a Missouri lawmaker will introduce legislation Tuesday favored by people who believe vaccinations are harmful.

Rep. Suzie Pollock, a Republican from Lebanon, told the Post-Dispatch Monday that she wants to ensure people who don’t get a vaccination for the deadly coronavirus aren’t discriminated against.

“They are going to try and force the COVID vaccine on people,” Pollock said. “If people want to take it, that’s fine. I don’t want to take it and I don’t know if the vast majority wants to take it.”

The measure, which could be debated by lawmakers when their regular session begins in January, comes as Gov. Mike Parson has said he won’t mandate vaccinations, just as he won’t require Missourians to wear masks.

But, the governor, a Republican, also has unveiled a website aimed at debunking misinformation and rumors, including concerns about getting COVID-19 from the vaccine.

“COVID-19 is not a hoax and neither is the vaccine. It is recommended by medical professionals that you consider getting vaccinated,” the website notes.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams also believes wide distribution of a vaccine will help end the pandemic.

“I believe that the path to get back to normal is now lighted and that path is this vaccine,” Williams earlier told a legislative panel.

Pollock, however, said her constituents are worried.

“This COVID vaccine has been rushed. The efficacy is in question,” Pollock said.

Parson has said multiple times the vaccination will be safe.

“The most important thing we’ve learned about the accelerated development process is that steps have not been eliminated but are instead occurring simultaneously,” he told reporters at a recent briefing. “Safety is not being sacrificed, and it’s important for Missourians to understand this.”

Pollock’s effort is the latest in a string of failed attempts by GOP lawmakers to prohibit discrimination against children who haven’t been vaccinated.

In 2019, for example, Rep. Lynn Morris, R-Ozark, said people should have a choice and not be punished for deciding against vaccinations.

“I’m a pharmacist. I’m not against vaccines,” Morris said. “I am for people having the right to choose what they want done to their children. Parents are getting bullied. They are being intimidated. I just don’t think that’s right.”

His measure, which was not debated by the full House, would have prohibited public schools, universities, day care facilities and doctors from turning a child away if they have received an exemption from vaccinations because of medical or religious reasons.

Pollock, who is a cardiovascular invasive specialist, introduced a similar proposal last spring, but it did not advance after the pandemic brought much of the Legislature’s business to a halt.

Under her legislation, immunization requirements would only apply to students in public schools.

The measure also would have allowed a student to attend school if he or she can provide evidence of acquired immunity.

Under Missouri’s vaccination distribution plan, doses will go first to staff at long-term care facilities and health care workers exposed to patients or infectious materials. The general public will likely not be able to get in line for months, experts say.

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