LANSING, Mich. — Across Michigan, as schools are deciding whether to require their staff and students to get vaccinated, a group of Republican state senators is pushing to prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for school-aged children.
“We’re very protective of parental rights and the rights of individuals to choose for themselves whether or not they want to receive the vaccine," said state Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte.
Barrett said he feels asking people about their vaccination status is a "real invasion of privacy."
“This is people who work in a regular office setting and their employer, before they can log into their computer terminal for the day, is asking them whether or not they’ve been vaccinated, which is a real invasion of their medical privacy," he said.
Michigan schools already require some information on the vaccination status of their students. For instance, schools require children to get and disclose they have gotten the measles vaccine. It's the same for other common childhood diseases like mumps and whooping cough.
"I think private corporations and organizations that want to protect the people they serve have every right to do that just like they have every right to ask you to wear shoes and wear a shirt when you go into their restaurant," said state Senator Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing. "You know nobody at the state is mandating that someone shows a vaccination card to do things that's not happening here in Michigan."
Hertel said that he wishes his colleagues would pay more attention to just how safe and effective the COVID-19 vaccines are.
"Nobody is going to hold kids down and force them to be vaccinated, It's not a plan by the health department it's not a plan by the governor and it's not a plan of mine," Hertel said. "The only thing we're going to do is to go out there and tell the truth about the vaccines and encourage people to actually get them and I wish my colleagues would do the same."
The Michigan Education Association, which represents close to 120,000 teachers and other education workers across the state, said that, even if schools decide to mandate vaccines, that decision should be made at a local level.
Ethics professors at Michigan State University agreed, saying that getting vaccinated is about more than individual freedom.
"There are a lot of things that we could say you should do for your own good but we don’t want to mandate that," said Sean Valles, the director of the university's Center for Bioethics and Social Justice. "But when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, my being vaccinated means I’m less of a risk to other people and so I am less likely to transmit it to other people because I’m less likely to be infected in the first place.”
Philosophy professor Leonard Fleck agreed, saying classrooms are spaces where COVID-19 thrives and even a small percentage of students who are unvaccinated could bring COVID in.
“If 20 percent of those students haven’t been vaccinated, they can bring COVID Delta into that classroom setting and they’re putting those students at a serious risk of serious illness, hospitalization and or death," he said. "That is a use of so-called individual freedom that’s inappropriate from a public health perspective.”
Both said that, from an ethical perspective, COVID-19 vaccines should be required.
“I think it would be ethically appropriate to say that each of us has an obligation barring any medical conditions or other sorts of obstacles to be vaccinated," Valles said.
The state health department has not issued a vaccine mandate for students or anyone else. The department simply recommends every Michigan resident roll up their sleeve and get the vaccine.
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