Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who ended pandemic supplemental unemployment assistance nearly three months ahead of the federal deadline, just signed a bill that guarantees unemployment benefits for anti-vaxxers fired for not following employer vaccine mandates. Not only that, the bill signed Friday allows employees to claim an exemption if they believe getting the vaccine would be “injurious to the health and well-being of an individual residing with [them],” an apparent suggestion that vaccinated individuals can cause harm to others.
The idea that those who have been vaccinated can “shed” the virus and infect others has no scientific basis, but has spread in anti-vaxx circles. Earlier this month, a private school in Miami instituted a rule that vaccinated children must stay home for 30 days after receiving a dose. In an email to Rolling Stone, the school’s president cited “voluminous anecdotal reports in circulation” about vaccinated people negatively affecting. (The school has since reversed the policy.)
In a phone call with Rolling Stone, Republican Iowa state Rep. Henry Stone, who sponsored the legislation signed by Reynolds, denied that the bill implied the vaccine could have a negative affect on others, claiming the clause was only meant to “streamline the wording,” as it was based on similar language from the state’s education code pertaining to vaccine requirements. The state’s education immunization requirements, dated Dec. 2016, state that a child may be exempt from receiving required immunizations if a medical professional can attest that the “required immunizations would be injurious to the health and well-being of the applicant or any member of the applicant’s family or household.”
Vaccines can “shed” and potentially have a negative impact on others only when they contain a weakened form of the virus, and even then it is extremely rare. This is not possible with Covid vaccines. As the Centers for Disease Control has noted, “none of the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. contain a live virus.”
When asked whether he believed vaccinated individuals could have a negative impact on those around them, Stone said he “can’t comment on that” and that he’s “heard it both ways.”
Gov. Reynolds’ office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The bill comes in response to new federal vaccine mandates, most notably an executive order signed by President Biden in September holding that employees of federal contractors must be vaccinated by Dec. 8. Another mandate for workers in businesses with 100 or more employees is expected to go into effect in the coming months.
The Iowa bill adds language to the state code that states employers “shall waive the requirement” for any employee who presents a statement saying that getting vaccinated would be “injurious to the health and well-being of an individual residing with the employee.” It also guarantees exemptions for employees who believe the vaccine conflicts “with the tenets and practices” of their religion. While the federal mandate already allows for exemptions based on medical conditions or religious beliefs, it does not allow them on the basis of a concern for someone who lives with a vaccinated individual.
“I am proud to sign this bipartisan piece of legislation today,” Reynolds said in a statement Friday. “This is a major step forward in protecting Iowans’ freedoms and their abilities to make healthcare decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families. This legislation also gives employees the assurance that they will still receive unemployment benefits despite being fired for standing up for their beliefs.”
Although the Iowa Association of Business and Industry opposes the federal mandate, it said it is against the new law Reynolds signed because employers could still face stiff federal penalties (up to $14,000 per violation) if they don’t comply. The IAB also opposes the bill because businesses in the state “could soon face increased financial liability through additional unemployment tax levies to maintain a solvent unemployment trust fund,” the group said in a statement.
Up to this point, Reynolds has been relatively tough on people who are unemployed. She was one of 25 governors who opted to end pandemic unemployment benefits months ahead of their expiration, which she claimed was “discouraging people from returning to work.” Just last week, she doubled the number of work searches individuals are required to conduct each week in order to continue receiving benefits.
Reynolds’ fight against common sense public health measures isn’t finished. She’s promised more “immediate legal action” in the coming days.