Kansans, and their representatives, should firmly reject any special legislative session on COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
A special session would be wasteful and dangerous. Vaccine exemption legislation would likely be illegal, and would certainly be unnecessary. And if recent hearings on the subject are any indication, a special session would amplify the voices of misguided, unhinged opponents of public health.
We’re confident Gov. Laura Kelly will not call lawmakers back. But the Legislature can call itself into a special session with a two-thirds vote — and it might just happen.
Sunday, state Rep. Ron Highland of Wamego urged lawmakers to call themselves back to Topeka to review federal vaccine mandates.
“We are witnessing the unthinkable and unconstitutional demands of turning over our private and personal health care decisions to the control of the government or lose your job!” the Republican wrote.
First, it must be said: Highland seems far less concerned with government interference in “private and personal health care decisions” when it comes to reproductive rights.
But vaccine requirements are fully constitutional. “There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good,” the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1905, upholding a Massachusetts vaccine law. “On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members.”
Yes. Vaccine requirements, and other protections against the COVID pandemic, are meant to protect everyone — not just the person getting the shot, or wearing a mask, or staying home when sick. The misguided rants of anti-vaccine zealots repeatedly miss this point: It isn’t just about you. It’s also about us.
And Kansans know this, because they’ve enacted laws requiring almost all children to be vaccinated against polio, measles and other infectious diseases.
But the concern for public health doesn’t end there. Did you know Kansas has something called the Tuberculosis Control Program? Did you know that any case of tuberculosis in Kansas must be reported to the local or state health department within four hours of diagnosis?
Here’s a partial list of other infectious diseases that must be reported to Kansas public health officials within the four hour window: measles, mumps, diphtheria, smallpox, polio, cholera, rabies and rubella. Dozens of other illnesses must be reported within 24 hours.
The reason for these rules is obvious. They help reduce the spread of killer sicknesses. No reasonable person objects to them. Somehow, though, when COVID-19 is involved, disease reporting and vaccine mandates turn into tyranny.
That sentiment is the real cause for concern with a special session. Lawmakers, emboldened by the testimony of loopy conspiracy theorists, might push past COVID rules and restrict all public health measures in the state.
Already there are dark discussions in other states about lifting all vaccine requirements. We know what that means: Smallpox and polio could come roaring back. Measles and mumps would be common again.
The White House COVID-19 vaccine mandate is reasonable. It applies to federal workers and contractors. Unvaccinated employees at private businesses with more than 100 workers can keep their jobs if they get weekly tests. The rules will make Kansas more safe.
Instead, Kansas legislators are considering surrendering public health policy to people who think safety masks represent the Holocaust, or whose profanity-laced tirades are so offensive they’re edited from the record. A special session to do that is unacceptable, and must be rejected.
Kansas City Star