By Stephen Elliott
As COVID-19 vaccines inch closer to readiness, a group of Tennessee lawmakers is seeking to make it harder to require immunizations of the state’s citizens.
A newly filed bill for the upcoming legislative session, sponsored by five Republicans, would strip from state law language that allows only religious exemptions to vaccine requirements “in the absence of an epidemic or immediate threat thereof.”
The bill would also eliminate a misdemeanor for doctors who give patients a fraudulent certificate of sickness or vaccination in order to get around requirements.
If passed, the bill would add a provision to state law stating that “a state agency or department shall not promulgate or enforce any rule, and a political subdivision of this state shall not promulgate, adopt, or enforce any ordinance or resolution, that requires a medical examination, immunization, or treatment for those who object to the medical examination, immunization, or treatment on religious grounds or by right of conscience.”
Existing immunization laws, including for schoolchildren, include the religious exemption, though only when there is no ongoing epidemic or immediate threat of one.
Republican Reps. Jay Reedy and John Crawford are sponsoring the bill in the House, and Republican Sens. Mark Pody, Frank Niceley, and Janice Bowling are sponsoring it in the Senate.
Pody said he would consider taking a COVID-19 vaccine himself, provided sufficient safety trials are conducted. However, he does not want to require others to do so.
“We’ve had vaccines around for many, many years that have done a lot of good for many, many different people, and we certainly want everybody to have that opportunity to take that vaccine,” the Lebanon Republican told the Post. “We just don’t want to force it. I stand up for religious freedom wherever I can.”