Cleveland, OH

Ohio Debates Vaccine Anti-Discrimination Bill – With Claims of Magnetic Vaccine Crystals and Erosions of Freedom

Toby Hazlewood

The lengths some will go to in the name of privacy and freedom
Covid Vaccine StickerPhoto by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Debates and testimony have continued through this week in Cleveland, Ohio as part of House Bill 248 - a bill that has been described as "a vaccine choice and anti-discrimination act". The state legislature have heard numerous arguments for the bill against the enforced declaration of citizens' vaccinated-status. Many believe it would be a direct erosion of their privacy and freedom to withold such information without fear of discrimination.

Over 700 Ohioans have provided testimony in support of the bill. Some have provided moderate and well-reasoned objections against the potential enforcement of vaccines, and the tracking of those who've been vaccinated using vaccine passports.

Other testimonies have been a little more extreme, including one from an Ohioan who referred to a conspiracy theory that vaccines contain "magnetic vaccine crystals" - a claim that she tried to prove by showing a metal key sticking to her skin using magnetism. Her testimony has attracted attention and a certain amount of mocking on social media:

Source: Twitter

Vaccine passports as a route to a class system?

Other views expressed in regard to the bill were more reasoned - if still biased towards a certain political perspective - including these comments from Republican representative Jennifer Gross:

“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.”

A stalling vaccine rollout threatens herd immunity

The US rollout of the Covid vaccination is going well by most measures - 305 million doses have been administered so far. But progress is now slowing and 1 in 4 Americans saying they don't intend to get vaccinated which is a potential barrier to completing the rollout and reaching herd immunity.

Different states (both Democrat and Republican-ruled) are exploring ways to encourage and incentivize their residents to get vaccinated, including lotteries (in Ohio, California and Maryland) and free beer or pot (in New Jersey and Michigan respectively) but there's a further problem to be overcome:

How can we go about preventing the spread of the virus to those who haven't been vaccinated or those who are most vulnerable to it?

One answer seems to this problem seems to be vaccine passports - the very thing that Ohioans are now objecting to in the bill being debated in Cleveland.

These are personalized records that may use an app on our smartphones to document and provide proof for those who've had their shots. Such passports could then be used to reduce their risk of exposure to large groups including those more likely to be carrying the virus.
Covid VaccinePhoto by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

The states ruling out vaccine passports

In common with Ohio, various Republican-controlled states have already taken measures to prohibit the rollout of vaccine passports in measures to prevent supposed-discrimination against the freedoms of citizens.

Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott has passed a law that threatens to penalize businesses and government entities that require their customers to have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Alabama's governor Kay Ivey has recently signed an executive order banning businesses and public institutions from requiring vaccine passports to allow citizens access to services and events.

Florida too has banned the implementation of Covid Passports by Executive Order. Governor Ron DeSantis can usually be relied upon to be at the forefront of such moves.

And those opting for their use to grant freedoms

Meanwhile in New York, the Excelsior Pass that has been developed to allow citizens to prove their vaccinated status has seen over 1 million voluntary sign-ups. Citizens are enjoying the freedom of knowing that they can travel and attend events that are likely to be Covid-safe through the use of the vaccine passport.

Hawaii is another state that was quick to introduce vaccine passports as a convenient means of allowing the safe travel between islands, at the order of state Governor David Ige.

While some Americans are resistent to vaccine passports as they fear being tracked or giving the government too much insight into their lives, others feel that it's more important that normality can return to their daily lives, but in a safe, measured and controlled fashion.

Vaccine passports do provide a means of enabling that, as do the continued rollout of vaccines, appropriate use of masks and social distancing.
Coronavirus grafittiPhoto by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash

Do vaccine passports violate freedoms?

Articles in renowned medical and scientific journals have considered concerns over whether vaccine passports violate personal freedoms and confidentiality alongside the benefits of such schemes. In his comments against the use of vaccine passports in Florida, Ron DeSantis specifically called out concerns over an overreach of authority by the federal government.

The Excelsior Pass being rolled out in New York has tackled this issue by being developed so that it contains no biometric data for privacy reasons. Holders of the passport have to produce their personal ID to use it for accessing travel and restricted events.

Whether citizens choose to believe that vaccine passports erode their freedoms or not comes down to individual choice. Those who are resistant to signing up for them are likely the same people who are against being vaccinated too.

The effects of such bills and the outlawing of vaccine passports in various states has yet to become clear.

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