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Mississippi Employers Could Not Require COVID-19 Vaccinations Under New Bill

Mississippi House Rep. Dan Eubanks, a Desoto County Republican, seen her filing a bill in January 2021, filed a bill that would bar public and private employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccines. Photo courtesy Rep. Eubanks

Neither private Mississippi businesses nor public entities such as schools would be able to require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine under a bill two DeSoto County Republicans filed in the Mississippi House on Monday.

“A public or private employer shall not require any of its employees, against the objections of the employee, to receive an immunization or vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 or Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) as a condition of the person’s employment or continued employment with the employer,” House Bill 719 reads.

The lawmakers who filed the bill, Reps. Dana Criswell and Dan Eubanks, both sit on the House Public Health and Human Services Committee, which will determine whether or not the bill gets a full vote on the House floor during the 2021 legislative session. 

Both men are also members of the Mississippi Freedom Caucus, a group of five right-wing House members, four of whom hold leading roles on powerful committees in the Legislature’s lower chamber.

Eubanks: Vaccine Mandates Akin to ‘Rape’

Eubanks first previewed plans for the bill in an audio message to supporters of Mississippi Freedom Caucus on Jan. 3. “Sadly, over the past year, we have witnessed losses to our freedoms and liberties that our Constitution is meant to guarantee,” Eubanks said.

He accused “our nation’s politicians” of “overreach” and of denying “Americans of their God-given liberties under the guise of safety.”

“Now, there is a new attack to our collective liberty and freedom on the horizon under the guise of safety, and it comes under the form of vaccines or mandates,” Eubanks said in the recording. “Despite what you have heard or think, everything in this country is pressing toward this egregious breach of your freedom if the government allows or supports health care, private industry or educational institutions’ ability to mandate vaccines as a requirement to work, provide for your family or even to receive an education.”

Dr. Libby Y.C. Kot, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Hattiesburg Clinic, received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in December. Photo courtesy Hattiesburg Clinic

In the recording, Eubanks compared freedom to pregnancy: “You can’t be a little pregnant; you either are, or you are not,” he said, adding that “freedom” works the same way.

“And as the government continually remains silent on the current narrative of vaccine ID cards and plans to restrict your travel without one, then it is merely a matter of time before we as citizens lose all freedom or say even over our very own bodies,” Eubanks said. Yesterday he also introduced a bill that would make all abortions a felony under Mississippi law and that says “any person who performs or induced any abortion shall be guilty of murder.” 

In his Jan. 3 remarks, Eubanks did not provide evidence of his claims about vaccine ID cards, and Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said earlier this month that talk of vaccine mandates is premature because it could be months before the state has the capacity to vaccinate most Mississippians.

In the Jan. 3 recording, the DeSoto County Republican argues that such mandates would be unconstitutional because people have a right to bodily autonomy with no interference from the government.

“It’s your health. It’s your body. And you should have every say on what is forced into it and upon it. Anything less is nothing short of medical rape,” said Eubanks, who co-sponsored the House version of the 2019 fetal heartbeat law that bans Mississippi women from getting abortions after about six weeks gestation with no exception for rape.

All current members of the Mississippi House Freedom Caucus, except Rep. Brady Wiliamson of Lafayette County, who did not take office until 2020, joined Eubanks in sponsoring that bill. Federal courts have blocked the anti-abortion law citing Roe v. Wade, though Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch could still appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mississippi Leads Nation in Vaccines

Since last year, Eubanks has helped sow doubt about the COVID-19 vaccine’s safety or effectiveness. In a Nov. 9 Facebook post, he mocked the Pfizer vaccine’s announcement, implying the company waited until after Joe Biden won the presidential election to deny Donald Trump a possible political boon.

In a comment, a constituent wrote, “Well, I don’t care how effective it is. I am NOT taking it and neither is my family.” 

“Neither is mine,” Eubanks replied.

In a Jan. 5 Millsaps-Chism Strategies State of the State Poll, 53% of Mississippians said they would “definitely” or “likely” get the COVID-19 vaccine. But among Mississippians in the 1st Congressional District in the north part of the state, only 26% said the same. That district includes DeSoto County. Eubanks, Criswell and local leaders, including the county sheriff and coroner, have long spread COVID-19 misinformation, downplayed the pandemic’s deadliness and discouraged mask use even as the county’s hospitals filled up.

DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco, left, seen here with former Mississippi House Rep. Robert Foster, right, have both discouraged local residents from complying with mask mandates. Photo courtesy Sheriff Bill Rosca

Mississippi has the highest vaccination rates in the country, owing to the state’s strong 1970s-era vaccination laws that require children to receive a number of vaccines for illnesses like measles before attending public or private school with few exceptions. Since the current slate of vaccines are only for adults ages 18 and older, no lawmaker has filed legislation that would update the law to add COVID-19 vaccines to the childhood vaccine mandates.

Even as states around the country have experienced outbreaks from diseases like measles in recent years amid the growing anti-vaxxer movement, Mississippi has not identified a new measles case since 1992, a fact the Mississippi State Department of Health has attributed to the strict vaccine laws.

Mississippi is one of just two states, along with West Virginia, that does not allow parents to claim a religious exemption to opt out of vaccination requirements. In recent years, though, the anti-vaxxer group Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights has courted Republican lawmakers in hopes of adding a religious exemption to the law. Two senators introduced religious exemption bills in 2019, though they died in committee.

Anti-Vaxxers Marched on U.S. Capitol

Members of the Mississippi anti-vaxxer organization marched with thousands of Trump supporters in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6—the day hundreds of pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Some photos on Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights co-director MaryJo Perry’s Facebook page show members outside the Capitol, with one carrying a sign that claims “Vaccines Are Made With Aborted Fetal Cells.” Medical experts say such claims misrepresent the facts and that COVID-19 vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells.

The organization did not respond to a request for comment earlier today, but there is currently no evidence that Mississippi’s anti-vaxxers joined those who breached the Capitol. Perry posted one photo from the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 that does show other Trump supporters scaling the walls to join the insurrectionist mob.

Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights Co-Director MaryJo Perry posted this photo from the U.S. Capitol as protesters stormed it on Jan. 6. Screencap courtesy Facebook

“We are at the U.S. Capitol! It is patriots waving flags, beating drums and praying and blowing shofars,” Perry wrote on Jan. 6. “We are all safe. We see no violence nor destruction of property of any kind from where we are, up close.”

At least four Trump supporters and a Capitol Police officer died amid the violent insurrection, which resulted in Trump’s second impeachment, this time for incitement of insurrection, and a massive nationwide federal investigation that has since nabbed hundreds of rioters.

Trump will leave office tomorrow at noon when President-elect Joe Biden takes the Oath of Office. The incoming president has promised to speed up vaccine delivery and says he will ensure the delivery of 100 million doses within his first 100 days in office.

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