Rep. Brenda Landwehr confronts Rep. John Barker following a hearing Monday at the Statehouse in Topeka. Barker thwarted an attempt to advance legislation that would strip the health secretary of the authority to require COVID-19 vaccination for children attending school or day care. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — As the daughter of a retired, small-town funeral director, Heather Braum says she has walked through the cemetery numerous times.
And, she told lawmakers Monday, she noticed something about the older sections.
“There are so many infant and child graves throughout, many without names or dates listed,” Braum said. “If there are dates listed, they are far too short.”
Braum, the health policy adviser at Kansas Action for Children, says the newer sections of the cemetery don’t have these graves thanks to childhood vaccines. She asked members of the House Health and Human Services Committee to reject House Bill 2498, which would strip the Kansas health secretary’s authority to require children who attend school or day care to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Anti-vaxxers insisted the legislation merely provides a check on the powers of a single, non-elected official. Medical professionals sounded alarms about this being the first step toward making all vaccines optional.
Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, effectively blocked an attempt by the committee chairwoman, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, to proceed with a vote immediately after hearing testimony on the bill for the first time. The procedural move puts the legislation in jeopardy because Landwehr’s committee isn’t scheduled to meet again this session.
This is the third consecutive session in which similar legislation has received a committee hearing. Ashley Goss, deputy secretary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, told the committee the secretary has no plans to add a COVID-19 shot to the list of required childhood vaccinations.
Rep. Brett Fairchild, R-St. John, introduced HB2498 with support from eight other House Republicans who co-sponsored the legislation.
“This bill has nothing to do with vaccines, including the COVID vaccine,” Fairchild said. “This is not an anti-vaccine or anti-vax bill in any way. All it is doing is it’s simply taking away power from an unelected bureaucracy, giving power back to the people through their elected representatives to handle the issue.”
Anti-vaxxers who testified in support of Fairchild’s bill bombarded lawmakers with inaccurate claims about the authorization of COVID-19 vaccines, the time it took to develop mRNA technology, the number of people involved in studies about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and the number of people injured or killed by the vaccines.
Lauren Shiffman said as the mother of two young boys in Lenexa, her job is to research and make sound medical decisions for her children. She opposed the idea that the state’s top medical officer should make decisions for parents.
“This was a serious concern before with the other vaccines, but it’s absolutely terrifying when we’re talking about a non-FDA approved experimental gene therapy injection that was rushed to market and has never been used before,” she said.
Shaun Heald described the COVID-19 vaccines as “potentially catastrophic, disease ineffective, unsafe, unnecessary, but liability free and very profitable.” He falsely claimed that vaccines are more harmful to children than COVID-19 and that vaccines are responsible for variants of the disease.
“The media is currently working overtime to convince us that healthy children having strokes, heart attacks and blood clots is either normal or being caused solely by COVID,” Heald said.
Sarah Irsik-Good, board member of the Immunize Kansas Coalition, pointed to the 214 million Americans who are fully vaccinated from COVID-19 as evidence the vaccines are safe. She said the legislation represents an attempt to challenge the health secretary’s authority for all vaccines.
“It really is about grandstanding today,” Irsik-Good said.
Kelly Sommers, director of the Kansas State Nurses Association, said she was baffled by the lack of trust people put in nurses who work to provide children with the best possible care, not hurt them.
As a mother, Sommers said, she had to watch her child get poked with a needle and hear him cry, but she knew his health was important.
“I was well educated enough that I knew I was making the right decision on behalf of my child, and I wasn’t influenced by people who don’t have my child’s best interests at heart, that don’t have another political agenda, instead of caring for our children,” Sommers said.
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