Republican Indiana lawmakers want natural immunity to COVID-19 from a previous infection to exempt some residents from workplace vaccination requirements. The Indiana House, which is dominated by GOP lawmakers, may be able to debate approving the measures as soon as next week after a committee backed the bill in a 7-4 vote on Thursday.
The controversial proposal has drawn criticism from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP Senate leaders who have said it hinders the ability of private businesses to make decisions. The idea of using natural immunity instead of vaccines as protection against contracting and transmitting the virus has also been called into question by medical studies.
The bill, which already includes required medical or religious exemptions, would force employers to accept medical test results showing some level of infection-causing virus immunity in lieu of vaccination. This would make anyone who was fired for not getting a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine eligible for unemployment benefits.
Republican House Majority Leader Matt Lehman said companies can only ask employees for proof of natural immunity through another medical test once every six months. If COVID-fighting antibodies are no longer detected, “you will come back and be subject to other remissions because you may not show that immunity,” Lehmann said.
The House action follows two lengthy public hearings dominated by conservative criticism of President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirements for some activists and complaints over virus precautions ordered by the government. Health experts argued the limitations would hurt efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, while hospitals in the state with their highest overall patient numbers are strained.
The rapidly spreading Omicron variant has pushed Indiana’s number of confirmed COVID-19 infections to an average of more than 9,000 per day, according to a state health department tracking. That’s the highest level during the pandemic since hospitals in Indiana were treating nearly 3,300 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday — a number that’s nearly 170 percent higher than two months ago and before the vaccine became widely available in December. Highest since mid-2020.
Indiana’s vaccination rate has remained stagnant for months, despite pleas from Holcomb and medical groups to get more people to get the shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Indiana has the ninth lowest rate in the nation for a fully vaccinated population, at 52.1 percent.
Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said people need to take responsibility for protecting themselves from COVID-19 and do not believe businesses can rely on vaccinations to stop the spread among their employees.
“I think what we’ve seen now is that there was a belief that if we all got vaccinated, we could stop the spread, right? And we’re not stopping the spread,” Huston said. . “Vaccination protects me. It protects me. That doesn’t mean I can’t give it to you.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.