Legal immunities added to vaccine bill

Close-up medical syringe with a vaccine.

A Senate committee on Thursday crafted a new vaccination bill that establishes broad new legal immunities for anyone without a vaccination in the workplace who might infect someone with a contagious disease.

The Senate health committee agreed to a bill that still bars employers from requiring vaccines, but strikes the penalty, which included a judgment of actual damages or $1,000, whichever is greater.

The committee, however, agreed to add other provisions that would shield businesses from legal liability if an unvaccinated employee infects someone else.

It also would apply to a business’ decision to allow someone on their premises without a vaccination who might infect someone else.

The bill applies to vaccines in general, not just the COVID-19 innoculation.

It does not apply to vaccinations required by federal law or in cases of gross negligence or reckless conduct.

The bill is sponsored by Republican state Sen. Mark Steffen of Hutchinson who said he eliminated the fine for businesses who objected to the mandate.

The committee rolled the employer component in with another bill barring the state health secretary from requiring new vaccines for day care centers and schools.

Steffen believes the COVID-19 vaccine is experimental and could pose a health threat although federal data show that very few people who have received the shot have suffered from serious adverse side effects.

Saying he supports vaccines, Steffen believes vaccines generally should be a matter of choice, especially for children, even if the risk might be small.

“They have their place when the individual is informed and makes the decision as to what they want,” he said

“You can think of it as playing Russian roulette,” Steffen said.

“Maybe the gun has a million barrels, but one of them has a bullet in it and you’re going to make that parent pull the trigger.”

Democratic state Sen. Pat Pettey of Kansas City said the legislation interferes with the business community’s ability to decide what’s best for their employees.

“I’m fully against it,” Pettey said.

“Businesses have the right to make certain decisions for the best work environment for their employees, their customers and their patients,” she said.

“I doesn’t makes sense for us to do such an overreach,” she sai.

The Immunize Kansas Coalition already had concerns about both bills, one prohibiting the health secretary from requiring new vaccines and the other barring businesses from requiring their employees to be vaccinated.

The bill infringes “on the rights of businesses, including healthcare and long-term care facilities, to implement employee vaccination requirements as they see necessary to align with scientific, evidence-based public health practices and guidance,” the organization said in a statement Thursday.

“Employers should have the freedom to protect their employees, customers, patients and residents – especially those at high-risk for severe complications, including infants, elderly, and immunocompromised individuals – from vaccine-preventable disease with vaccination requirements,” the group said.

Earlier this week, the medical community came out against the bill barring the state health secretary from requiring new vaccines for day care centers and schools.

The bill, which passed out of committee on Thursday, would turn those decisions over to the state Legislature.

Currently, those decisions are made by the state health secretary under state administrative regulations.

The bill would keep in place the current list of required vaccinations but would prevent the health secretary from adding new ones to the list, namely COVID-19.