Thanks to Texans emphasizing to state lawmakers the importance of individual medical freedom, the Texas Legislature banned so-called “vaccine passports” for business customers statewide. But with the appearance of employer vaccine mandates for workers, the state’s leading vaccine choice advocate says citizens must discuss how to respond and what actions the Republican-controlled Legislature should take in a special session.
“I think the most important thing to emphasize right now is our elected officials are directly responding to us,” Jackie Schlegel, executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, told Texas Scorecard. “Oftentimes, we love to point out everything that they’re not doing right for us. But when we’re being vocal and we are putting an emphasis on these issues that are incredibly important to the state of Texas, we have seen that they respond.”
Schlegel says that’s how vaccine passports got banned during this year’s regular legislative session. “They responded to the citizens of Texas,” she continued. “Now the citizens of Texas need to figure out the next steps of what direction we want to go. Where do we want to draw the line as far as informed consent, medical privacy and vaccine choice? And we need to make our voices heard to our elected officials.”
What Did the Legislature Do?
The ”vaccine passport ban”—Senate Bill 968 by State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham)—passed the Texas Senate and House by unanimous and near-unanimous votes and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 16.
It states businesses cannot require customers to show proof of vaccination; if the business does so, it would be denied state taxpayer funds. The law says state agencies “shall ensure” businesses obey, and “may” require they obey as a condition for their license or permit.
“I, for one, am tickled pink that I can walk into the grocery store and not have to vouch for my vaccination status. That was a very real threat to Texans if we did not pass this bill,” Schlegel said.
Schlegel also praised Kolkhorst and State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R–Fort Worth) for getting the bill to the governor’s desk. “[Kolkhorst] had stronger language than the governor did in his executive order, and she had to fight really, really hard to get that language there and accepted by both chambers and onto the governor’s desk,” she said. “I think Rep. Stephanie Klick is another notable champion, who … got it to the finish line.”
Schlegel was asked about Carnival Cruise Line’s announcement earlier this month that they would require customers boarding from Galveston, Texas, to show proof of vaccination when they resume cruises in July.
“It would not be surprising to me that there’s going to be certain industries or corporations who are going to try to circumvent what I believe is a very clear law here in the state of Texas,” she replied. “Ultimately, some of these cases are just going to play out in court.”
We also asked about the situation at Houston Methodist Hospital. Earlier in June, 178 employees had not taken full COVID–19 vaccinations, as required by their employer. As of this week, 153 Houston Methodist employees have either resigned or been terminated; 117 are fighting the hospital in court.
“While [SB 968] does not touch employer mandates, I do think it sends a strong message to many employers that, as a state, we respect individual medical choice in regards to vaccination,” Schlegel said, pointing out employer mandates for healthcare workers and other employees fall into two separate categories. “Healthcare workers actually kind of have their own section of code, and so that would have to be addressed separately.”
“We’re focusing a lot on Houston Methodist, and rightfully so,” she continued. “But there are other cases out there.” Schlegel said she has also heard stories from employees in industries like information technology and sales. “Our phone is continuing to ring with those stories,” she said, referring to employees being required to wear a mask or even terminated if they refuse to vaccinate.
Schlegel says there must be a conversation about individual medical rights and the rights of business owners. “Many Republicans and conservatives … are a little apprehensive of how far we go in telling businesses how they can and cannot operate, including hiring employees that they may want to have vaccinated as a condition of employment,” she said. “Is a person who’s unvaccinated … a protected class? Or do we protect business owners in their right to make this decision for their business?”
I think the Republican Party in general does need to have this discussion.
She shared TFVC’s view on the matter. “Clearly, we believe that this is a form of discrimination. We protect other classes of citizens against discrimination, and we believe that these are private health decisions that should be protected,” Schlegel explained. “That is not the role of an employer to get involved in those private health decisions.”
If employers mandate these vaccinations, there is the question of liability. “Are business owners willing to assume liability if they mandate this product? That might be part of the conversation and the education that we’re having,” she said. “Do these business owners understand that they are mandating this product and the manufacturer is not liable? I don’t know that they do.”
Schlegel shared that vaccine manufacturers not being held to liability isn’t unique to COVID–19 vaccines. “There is no liability for manufacturers on vaccination.”
“What is unique with the COVID-19 vaccine is that it’s authorized under the emergency use authorization,” she said. “When you accept this vaccine or you take the vaccine, you are quite literally participating in the safety trials.”
Abbott has declared the first of multiple expected special sessions of the Texas Legislature will begin on July 8 . Schlegel was asked what Abbott should put on legislators’ to-do list. “We’re greatly concerned that we are creating two classes of citizens with these employee mandates,” she said. Texans’ right to work is TFVC’s top issue.
“Maybe the solution is we let the free market decide if business owners are going to do this or not,” she continued. “But ideally, we would have the Legislature act to protect Texans’ right to work, with the hope that they would embrace this as an anti-discrimination effort against those who choose not to get vaccinated.”
Censorship by social media was the second issue. “We’ve been so highly censored over the last few years on social media, but they’ve really taken it to a whole new level with censoring even those who get vaccinated sharing their story of side effects … or reactions,” she said. “It’s absolutely criminal [that] we don’t even allow personal stories of those who have been affected by these vaccines to be shared on these platforms.”
We would like to see action taken to stop the censorship of vaccine science, safety, and choice.
Jared Woodfill, the attorney for the 117 Houston Methodist employees, asked Abbott to address employer vaccine mandates in a special session. Former State Sen. Don Huffines, entertainer Chad Prather, and Republican Party of Texas Chair Allen West have spoken out against these mandates. All three are seen as Abbott’s rivals, but only West has yet to formally announce run for governor in the 2022 Republican primary.