|By Bob Weaver|
(I write this after suffering through the illnesses and deaths of family members, neighbors and friends, some who have been left with debilitating health problems. Maybe, for a brief moment could we think about the human condition, not the politics)
While several generations of West Virginians, adults and children, have taken mandated vaccines that have saved the lives of millions of people from the most scurrilous diseases, now comes WV Senate President Craig Blair (R) opposing mandated vaccines for employees to the federal governmentâs upcoming vaccine regulation covering the millions of Americans at companies with 100 or more workers.
Blair said, âFrankly, I think this harkens back to Nazi Germany," feeding the fears of West Virginians who already believe some of the half-dozen conspiracy theories circulated by social "news" sites which now dominates the minds of Americans.
Blair has obviously calculated that his band of supporters agree with him.
WV is leading the lag in the USA getting vaccinated, most polling indicating they are in fear of the federal government.
Science says unvaccinated people will likely catch COVID every 16 months on average, but don't be bothered by science.
Virtually all WV companies, the WV Chamber of Commerce, professionals, organizations and hospitals support
mandated vaccines, but a bill supported by Gov. Jim Justice is ready for him to sign, the legislative bill passed by the house and senate.
Months ago he gave up mandated masks, leaving such decisions to local 55 school boards, counties and cities, resulting in a hodge-podge of confusing and diverse "plans" to deal with the deadly virus.
He hasn't mentioned mask wearing as a preventive since.
The latest proposal, which would allow certain medical and religious exemptions to company COVID-19 vaccine mandates, was passed 17-16 after more than two hours of debate in the WV Senate. One senator was absent. The bill now must be reconciled with a version that earlier passed the House of Delegates.
The bill allows exemptions for violating religious and personal rights.
The bill covers businesses and state government agencies. Employers would be barred from penalizing or discriminating against current or prospective employees for pursuing the exemptions.
Senate President Craig Blair said,
âOur federal government is using federal dollars to coerce the citizens in this country to be obedient to the state. Ladies and gentlemen, regardless of whether youâre for us or against us, thatâs a problem.â
The comment drew an immediate rebuke from Mike Pushkin, a Democrat in the House of Delegates, who is Jewish.
Blair âJust compared vaccine work requirements to âNazi Germanyâ on the Senate Floor. His remarks are not just irresponsible and offensive, theyâre downright stupid,â Pushkin wrote on Twitter. âHe just trivialized the murder of millions while minimizing the deaths of hundreds of thousandsâ during the coronavirus pandemic.
Several physicians who are senators argued against the exemption bill.
Kanawha County Republican Tom Takubo, a pulmonologist, said state government shouldnât tell companies how to run their business. He also said nurses and doctors have patients with compromised immune systems.
âFreedom only goes so far, as long as it doesnât bleed onto someone elseâs freedom,â Takubo said. âOnce youâve done that, I donât call it freedom anymore.â
The West Virginia University Health System, the stateâs largest private employer, is requiring its more than 20,000 employees to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Oct. 31. And a Nov. 6 deadline looms for nearly 8,000 employees of Charleston Area Medical Center to provide COVID-19 vaccine documentation.
WHAT THE BILL DOES
A bill passed by the West Virginia Legislature would allow unvaccinated residents the opportunity to decline the vaccine and keep their job with an exemption.
House Bill 335, which says companies cannot discriminate based on an employeeâs vaccination status, is broad and vague at times. It gives two main exemptions employees can use - medical and religious.
The bill will likely keep WV at the tale end of fighting COVID-19.
For the medical exemption, someoneâs doctor can sign off on it after a physical exam saying the employee is worse off getting the vaccine and therefore shouldnât.
The religious exemption is very broad. All someone has to do is sign a personal affidavit saying the vaccine goes against their religion. No religious leader required.
âIt doesnât require a pastor or a religious leader to sign an affidavit saying that this person is religious,â attorney Rusty Webb said. âItâs just a personal affidavit that says âI have a religious reason.â It doesnât really go into faith. You donât have to say itâs your faith, itâs just your religion. Itâs very broad.â
Itâs also worth noting that school districts are mentioned among the list of entities that cannot discriminate. The list goes on to include all types of state, county or city offices and any for-profit or not-for-profit organizations.
The bill is on its way to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. If he signs it, the law would go in effect 90 days from then.