Republicans Want to Cancel Ohio’s Massively Successful Vaccine Lottery

Ohio is doing all it can to encourage vaccinations, and the GOP isn’t having it.
In this Oct. 17, 2018, file photo a Mega Millions lottery ticket rests on the shop counter at the Street Corner Market in Cincinnati.
In this Oct. 17, 2018, file photo a Mega Millions lottery ticket rests on the shop counter at the Street Corner Market in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

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Republicans in the Ohio state Legislature have taken a good long look at the devastation of the global pandemic we’ve lived through for more than a year and come to the conclusion that vaccines aren’t all that important, and that encouraging people to get them is actually a bad thing.  

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A bill being proposed in the Legislature would ban institutions, including public agencies, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and employers, from mandating or requesting that someone receive a vaccine—not just the COVID-19 vaccine, but all vaccines. On top of that, the “Enact Vaccine Choice and Anti-Discrimination Act” (House Bill 248) would prohibit incentives for getting vaccinated, according to the Ohio Capital Journal.

The new bill comes in direct conflict with the efforts of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine to increase vaccinations, which has included a wildly popular vaccine lottery offering the chance for six inoculated people to win $1 million, which has so far registered more than a million contestants, according to state officials. It also marks a significant escalation in legislation against vaccine mandates, which thus far has largely been focused on the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine “passports.”  

"We are not offering comment on the bill at this time,” DeWine’s press secretary, Dan Tierney, told VICE News in an email.

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Ohio is already one of more than a dozen states that allows people to opt out of inoculation for philosophical reasons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

Over the past few months, private businesses and local governments around the country have offered a variety of incentives to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. DeWine said last week that vaccination rates had spiked 28 percent following the announcement of the vaccine lottery announcement. The first drawing is scheduled to take place Wednesday.

The lead sponsor on HB 248 is state Rep. Jennifer Gross, a registered nurse who described it as “not a scientific bill” but a “freedom bill.” Gross, who reportedly only agreed to talk to an Ohio Capital Journal reporter if they removed their mask, has also compared vaccination requirements to the Holocaust, saying business requiring proof that customers have been vaccinated is “eerily similar” to forcing Jews to wear badges in Nazi Germany, according to the Cleveland Jewish News

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“Those that were lost are a grave, grave reminder that we should not be forcing anyone to take experimentation, as this vaccine is an experimental use authorized vaccine,” Gross told reporters last week, according to the Cleveland Jewish News. 

Proponents of the bill spoke at an Ohio House panel on Tuesday. One, physician and anti-mask protester Dr. Elizabeth Laffay, said that it wasn’t her “responsibility to put the health of the greater good before the health of myself as an individual.” 

Public health experts and business groups have slammed the bill. “If it becomes law, we will see worsening measles outbreaks, meningitis in the dorms, and children once again suffering from polio,” Democratic Rep. Beth Liston, a doctor of internal medicine at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, told the Dispatch. 

More than 50 businesses, hospitals, and healthcare groups calling themselves the “Ohio Vaccine Coalition” publicly came out in opposition to the legislation as well. 

"At its core, this proposal would destroy our current public health framework that prevents outbreaks of potentially lethal diseases, threatens the stability of our economy as it recovers from a devastating pandemic and jeopardizes the way we live, learn, work and celebrate life," the coalition wrote in a letter to the House Health Committee on Tuesday, according to the Dispatch.

Though DeWine declined to comment on HB 248, he did say Monday that he would veto a separate bill that would ban his COVID-19 lottery if passed, according to the Columbus Dispatch. 

"What we've lived with in Ohio as far as the exemptions, as far as people's ability to exempt out of things, it seems to have worked pretty well," DeWine said Monday, according to the Dispatch.