JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Hundreds of protestors rallied inside the Missouri Capitol Wednesday in opposition to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.
On the same day as the veto session, the discussion of a vaccine mandate was at the forefront. From a rally in the rotunda of the Capitol to a committee hearing, the overall goal is to make sure there’s no mandate in Missouri.
Last week President Joe Biden said employers with more than 100 workers will require employees to be vaccinated or to submit a weekly negative test. Another part of the plan is any employees working at Medicare and Medicaid funding facilities, like nursing homes, must also be vaccinated.
“We’re simply here to give a voice to the heartfelt concerns expressed by many people across this state,” chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Dave Evans, R-West Plaines told members. “This is not something that is limited by race, color, or even by political party.”
During the 90-minute hearing, representatives of health care facilities and businesses stressed how a mandate could drive away staff.
“I had a member call me and say this will be a catastrophic impact on our workforce,” executive director for Missouri Health Care Association (MHCA) Nikki Strong said. “Staffing was difficult before COVID, staffing has been extremely difficult after COVID and post COVID.”
The association represents more than 65% of the 500 nursing care facilities in the state. Strong testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Appropriations – Health, Mental Health, and Social Services Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday morning, she was in front of another House committee stressing the importance of vaccination but saying MHCA is not in support of a mandate.
Jorgen Schlemeier represents the Missouri Assisted Living Association. He told the committee if a mandate is put into effect, it will cause employees to change jobs.
“The mandate does not actually increase vaccination rates, it simply squeezes the balloon and employees go in other directions from the 100 and over employers where they are now,” Schlemeier said.
Kara Corches from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce said vaccination is “the pathway to economic recovery for our state.”
“We think that with all governmental mandates and especially with this one, this is a slippery slope,” Corches said. “If we start with this, what’s next for the employer community.”
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), only 50% of nursing home staff in Missouri is vaccinated, the third-lowest in the country behind Florida and Louisiana.
Strong said 85% of residents in long-term care facilities across the state are vaccinated which has reduced breakouts at facilities. During the pandemic, she said nearly every state suffered a breakout. According to CMS, there were more than 3,700 COVID deaths in long-term care facilities.
“Honestly, I would predict with some certainty that you will have facilities that will go out of business, and you will have senior relocated to other areas and that shift in employees, that’s permanent,” Schlemeier said.
Ray McCarty from Associated Industries of America said it should be up to employers to decide if their employees are vaccinated.
“These larger employers that are already having difficulty finding employees and you’re saying we’re going to make you have a mandate that smaller employers don’t have, that’s not fair,” McCarty said.
Some Republican lawmakers also testified during the hearing.
“If you’re not free to say no to something, then you’re not free as an individual,” Rep. Bill Hardwick, R-Waynesville said.
Outside of the hearing room in the rotunda, hundreds gathered to rally in opposition to Biden’s vaccine mandate.
“How can you safely say that this is for every single person,” one of the organizers Britany Hartzell said. “We have to have the freedom of choice if we want to receive these vaccines or not.”
Hartzell worked at Mercy Hospital in Springfield as an emergency room nurse. She left her job because of a vaccine mandate.
“People do not want to be forced to take this, they don’t want to be forced,” Hartzell said. “They want it to be a choice and as a nurse, I personally respect your choice.”
One Missourian that testified at the hearing said she’s tired of the fighting over this topic.
“Shame on all of us, shame on us for letting us get this fair,” Angela Davis said.
There’s no vaccine mandate in place yet by the federal government but Missouri health officials are expecting it to happen in late October.