Texas Senate committee calls for ban on mask and COVID vaccine mandates

AUSTIN — A Texas Senate committee wants the state to ban mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates, a sign a pandemic policy could happen in the next legislative session.

The Republican-led Senate Health and Human Services Committee included the coronavirus recommendations in a newly released 37-page report.

Although the majority of committee members supported the document, including two Republican doctors, three senators called the policy ideas short-sighted and refused to sign.

The split on the committee highlights the ongoing tension over public health measures sparked by the pandemic.

While not legislation, the document represents the priorities of the Senate committee, which reviews all health and human services bills.

It remains to be seen whether the GOP-dominated Legislature will welcome the recommendations, which face pushback from public health experts. State leaders have not named the pandemic a policy priority ahead of the January 10 session.

More than 90,000 Texans have died from COVID-19, although the number of deaths has dropped sharply since the start of the year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. After months of record low flu and RSV case rates, COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise in the battle for dominance of the infectious sub-micron variant.

The section of the committee’s report on the response to the pandemic is based on testimony from prominent skeptics of the COVID-19 vaccine, including Dr. Peter McCullough of Dallas, and public health experts say it adds to misinformation about the vaccine suggesting the shot is unsafe.

The commission’s report concludes that non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as social distancing and masking, “are needed, but the large mandates revealed by the pandemic create unintended consequences such as economic hardship, delayed preventive treatment and sometimes death.”

In addition to banning future mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the report suggests funding research into the harmful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and forming a special commission on “medical censorship.”

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who chairs the 9-member committee, did not respond to a request for an interview. The committee’s two physician members, Sens. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, also did not respond to requests for support for the report.

Public health officials said the committee’s emphasis is misplaced, saying lawmakers must deal with the consequences of prolonged COVID and promote vaccination. State data shows that Texans who opt out of the shot are far more likely to test positive and die from illnesses related to COVID-19.

“The commission should instead review how 40,000-45,000 Texans died from Covid because they were denied an unnecessary vaccine,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, an inventor of the COVID vaccine technology who serves as dean of Baylor College’s National School of Tropical Medicine. of Medicine in Houston. “The commission’s report in its current form only serves to weaponize health communication and put Texans at greater risk of disease.”

Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston; Beverly Powell, D-Burleson; and Rep. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, did not sign their names to the report. Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso, did, but attached a letter of objection to the document.

All four took issue with a ban on future mask mandates, warning that the move would deprive officials of a key tool to combat future outbreaks.

“What if Ebola, or some bad kind of smallpox?” said Seliger, who is not running for re-election this year. “It’s a medical decision, not a political decision.”

Miles said that looking only at the negative effects of the COVID-19 vaccine would divert taxpayer dollars to “research with predetermined outcomes” and that hospital vaccine mandates help keep patients and staff safe.

“I urge my colleagues to stop supporting the anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and political platforms that have led to the deaths of so many people in our state, this country and the world,” Miles said in a written statement.

Other sections of the report discuss ways to address public health workforce shortages and improve data collection. Recommendations include finding ways for workers to access medically underserved services and boosting funding for programs that keep Texas medical graduates in the state. Those policies did not seem to cause any disagreement in the committee.

When Parliament last met in 2019, lawmakers voted to limit the use of government shutdown orders on houses of worship and nursing homes. A top bill that sought to limit the governor’s emergency powers, which were used to implement a statewide mask mandate, failed.

Mask orders have been lifted mostly across Texas. State leaders continue to fight the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate in court. In Head Start programs and the military, for example, there are constant instances of compliance requirements.

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