The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 15, 2021 1:00 am


The greater good

Vaccine opt-out would imperil social contract

A bill making its way through the Indiana General Assembly would have far-reaching – and possibly detrimental – effects on businesses and public health.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, filed the measure that would largely bar companies from requiring immunizations. The target: the COVID-19 vaccine.

Employers in Indiana can require their workers to be vaccinated against diseases including measles, mumps and the flu, but there are exemptions for medical conditions or religious objections. That's not enough for Kruse, who said Wednesday companies can't force vaccinations against a person's “conscience,” The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly reported.

“The word 'conscience' is the essence of the bill,” Kruse said. “My feeling is personal liberty and freedom of choice is the main thing I am putting forward with this bill.”

It's a sentiment shared by Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, who sang “ooo freedom, ooo liberty, ooo leave me alone,” on a 1994 live version of the song “Liberty.”

Others, including Purdue University Fort Wayne philosophy professor Abe Schwab, argue there is more to consider than simply a request to be left alone. We agree.

The coronavirus pandemic maintains its hold on Indiana and the world, even as thousands of doses of the vaccine have been administered and thousands more shots are scheduled to be given. As of Thursday, at least 8,830 Hoosiers had been killed by the virus – 539 of them in Allen County, where tougher restrictions on gatherings were reinstated this week to combat the spread of the disease.

Schwab, director of Ethics Across the Curriculum, specializes in applied ethics at Purdue Fort Wayne and said Kruse's bill raises questions.

“Are employers entitled to make decisions (based) on the safety of their workplace?” he asked, comparing requiring immunizations to drug tests, which some employers require of workers. “If we were to say vaccines are not allowable, then we might be asking about consistency.”

The aims of the measure also are questionable.

“The argument can't be just liberty, because we restrict liberty all the time,” Schwab said, noting he was asked to prove he had been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella to volunteer at a local hospital.

Speed limits prohibit drivers from potentially causing accidents on our roads. Seat belts prevent deaths when crashes occur. Most employers wouldn't allow you to wear a mesh tank top, cutoff shorts and flip-flops to the office.

“It's part of a base structure of living in a society that we place limits on some liberties,” Schwab said.

Patrick Glew of the Indiana Immunization Coalition cautioned Wednesday that the bill also is too broad because it applies to vaccines for many diseases and could put people at risk of doctors and nurses who haven't been immunized.

Katie Van Tornhout told Kruse and other lawmakers her month-old baby girl died after contracting whooping cough from an asymptomatic nurse, Kelly reported.

Mike Ripley, Indiana Chamber of Commerce vice president for health care policy and employment law, said “employers have liberty as well” and should be able to control the safety of their property.

Amendments to Senate Bill 74 – including whether to narrow it to apply to only the COVID-19 vaccine – and a vote could come next week.

There now are better arguments for not passing the bill than for moving it forward.

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