By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
A state senator wants to make clear in state law that Alabama citizens can’t be forced by the state to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I am definitely preparing legislation as a starting point for the Legislature to have this conversation and debate about vaccinations and placing limits on how far governmental powers can go in requiring them for ordinary citizens,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, told Alabama Daily News.
State health officials are preparing for preliminary distribution of a vaccine expected early next year.
While state law doesn’t currently explicitly give health officials the power to require mass vaccines, state code does say the state health officer is to “keep himself informed in regard to all diseases which may be in danger of invading the state and, as far as authorized by law, take prompt measures to prevent such invasions and keep the Governor and the Legislature informed as to the health conditions prevailing in the state…”
Since the onset of the pandemic, some lawmakers have questioned the broad powers given to the state health officer and the governor to shut down businesses and keep people at home. Legislation to give lawmakers more say in emergency orders is expected in the upcoming session.
While an effort to require vaccination would likely face legal challenges, Orr said lawmakers can clarify the issue in the upcoming session.
“I know there is enough concern out there about mandatory vaccinations across the board, that we need to have this policy debate in Montgomery in the regular session,” he said.
It’s obviously a fluid situation, but we need to start somewhere, Orr said.
Orr said some of the concerns he’s heard are related to the quick development and testing of the COVID-19 vaccinations, a process that can take several years.
“There’s sincere concern about the long-term side effects of these vaccinations that have not had the luxury of time in trials for a full vetting,” Orr said.
Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers told ADN that while state law requires children in child care centers and schools to have a certificate of immunization for childhood vaccines or a religious or medical exemption for vaccine, this is not applicable in COVID-19.
“The Alabama Department of Public Health is following the guidance of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices regarding persons designated to receive COVID-19 vaccine with the first allocation to our state,” Landers said in an email. “As part of Phase 1a, health care workers and residents of long-term care have been identified as initial recipients. Due to limited supply of vaccine in the initial offering, entities such as hospitals may need to sub prioritize providers who are at highest risk for ongoing potential exposure to the virus.
“While entities will offer this vaccine to the persons identified in Phase 1a, ADPH does not have a requirement for persons to take COVID-19 vaccine.”
All 50 states have legislation requiring specified vaccines for students, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Alabama is one of 45 states that grants religious exemptions for people who have religious objections to immunizations.
In Florida, a lawmaker recently filed legislation to eliminate the state’s ability to require vaccines during a pandemic.
In Virginia this summer, lawmakers tabled a bill to eliminate health officials’ authority to require vaccinations during a pandemic despite a person’s religious objections, according to the NCSL.