If two Idaho state lawmakers get their way, it would become a criminal misdemeanor to administer a Covid-19 mRNA vaccine in Idaho. Yep, you heard that correctly. State Senator Tammy Nichols and State Representative Judy Boyle, both Republicans, have co-sponsored House Bill (HB) 154 for Idaho, otherwise known as the “Gem State.” Yeah, this bill is quite a gem if you’ve been collecting all of the “WTF” moments from the Covid-19 pandemic.
On February 15, Nichols introduced HB 154 via the House Health & Welfare Committee. This bill didn’t have a whole lot of verbiage. It simply stated that, “A person may not provide or administer a vaccine developed using messenger ribonucleic acid technology for use in an individual or any other mammal in this state.” So in other words, this would apply to giving mRNA vaccines not only to humans but also to other mammals such as bighorn sheep if you were so inclined. The next line clarified that, “A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
Of course, to date, humans have been the main recipients of Covid-19 mRNA vaccines and not bighorn sheep. And while some humans and many bots have been very vocal about spreading anti-vaccination messages, bighorn sheep have been rather quiet about them. So, this bill is really not full of sheep as of now.
It is full of something else, though. Nichols and Boyle are doing this during a time when our country should be trying to find better ways to control the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It’s not as if Idaho has done a good job at controlling the spread of the virus. Throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, Idaho has had a total of 517,654 reported Covid-19 cases and 5,402 reported Covid-19-related deaths, according to the New York Times. While things with the Covid-19 pandemic have improved since a year ago and the pandemic could transition into a seasonal virus situation in 2023, the pandemic is by no means over yet.
Meanwhile, Idaho has had the sixth lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates among the U.S. states and territories. Only 56% of the population having been fully vaccinated, based on data from the New York Times. This breaks down to 19% of five-to-11 year-olds, 41% of 12-to-17-years-olds, 61% of 18-to-64-year-olds, and 89% of those 65 years and older. Again this is just being fully vaccinated, meaning the first two doses of Covid-19 vaccine. Booster rates have been much, much lower. All in all, these Idaho numbers, I don’t know, kind of are bad.
If passed, such a bill could put well-meaning health care workers at risk for criminal punishment just for administering a vaccine that’s been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a summary of scientific studies supporting the use of Covid-19 vaccines. So does the World Health Organization (WHO) and the New England Journal of Medicine. Covid-19 vaccination is not 100% risk free but evidence to date has shown that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Doesn’t this bill sort of says to health care professionals, “Yeah, we know you’ve been under stress throughout this pandemic. So, let’s give you something else to worry about now.”
So why is Nichols choosing now, of all times, to introduce this bill? According to Alexandra Duggan reporting for KTVB7 News, Nichols told the House Health & Welfare Committee, “We have issues (the vaccine) was fast tracked.” She continued by saying, “I think there is a lot of information that comes out with concerns to blood clots and heart issues.” So, if Nichols is concerned about what happened at the federal level with Pfizer and Moderna, why not address these companies directly rather than try to punish innocent health care workers? Or if Nichols wants more testing of the vaccines to be done, how about push for more funding to support such research? Unless, introducing this bill is more about, oh, let’s see, politics, perhaps?
Nichols did add that “There are other shots we could utilize that don’t have mRNA in it.” This latter statement is true. The Novavax Covid-19 vaccine, for example, uses a recombinant version of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein rather than mRNA that gets your cells to produce the spike protein, as I’ve described for Forbes. If Nichols really wanted to promote use of such alternatives, maybe a better strategy would be to find ways to increase the supply of or access to the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine.
HB 154 didn’t specifically mention Covid-19 probably because Nichols and Boyle seem to be trying to target future mRNA vaccines as well. Researchers, biotech companies, and pharmaceutical companies have been working on mRNA vaccines to prevent other types of infectious disease such as the flu as well as cancer. Presumably, such future mRNA vaccines would have to go through the full testing and approval process that other vaccines and medications would go through before reaching the market. If such mRNA vaccines prove to be effective against other such problems. this HB154, should it become a law, could hinder the Idaho population’s ability to access such technology.
The Idaho state motto is “Esto Perpetua,” which translates to “It is Perpetual.” If Idaho lawmakers don’t want pandemic preparedness and response to be a perpetual problem, then maybe they should focus on instituting new ways to detect and control infectious pathogens versus introducing legislation that really doesn’t solve any problems.