Thanks to physician-led grassroots advocacy, the Texas Medical Association beat back bills that aimed to codify Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order banning vaccine mandates. Those bills had failed to advance out of their respective chambers when the Texas Legislature adjourned from its third special session of the year on Oct. 19.
“TMA’s long-term commitment to advocacy for vaccines … came to fruition at this particular point in time because TMA was positioned ... to bring together business, medicine, and the rest of health care to work collaboratively toward positive outcomes,” TMA Associate Director of Legislative Affairs Troy Alexander said.
Tony Bennett, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, applauded the victory in a statement shared with Texas Medicine Today. “As we continue to navigate the pandemic, Texas employers need the flexibility to determine how best to ensure the safety and health of their workforce,” he wrote. “The ability to run a business without overly intrusive government interference is the mainstay of the Texas economy.”
Governor Abbott issued the order and included the issue of vaccine mandate bans on the agenda for the third special session as the Biden administration prepares to implement its federal COVID-19 mandate.
“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19,” he wrote.
Two bills related to vaccine mandate bans took center stage during the most recent session: House Bill 155 by Rep. Tom Oliverson, MD (R-Cypress), would have let workers and customers opt out of any vaccine requirements by businesses and let workers sue their employers for being sidelined from work due to their vaccination status. Senate Bill 51 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would have banned local governments, schools, universities, and private employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccines and allowed exemptions from all required vaccinations based on conscience.
During hours-long hearings before the House and Senate State Affairs committees earlier this month, Dallas public health specialist and chair of TMA’s Council on Legislation John T. Carlo, MD, testified on behalf of medicine, reiterating TMA’s stance that local autonomy – not universal mandates – is key to flattening pandemic surges.
“Our only consideration is patient health and safety,” he said. “We do not seek mandates in support of our position. However, we do support local, community-oriented, evidence-based education and intervention that allow physicians and other frontline clinicians to treat Texans who are vulnerable, unable to be vaccinated, living in nursing homes, or disabled.”
Dr. Carlo raised other concerns about vaccine mandate bans, which he said could endanger immunocompromised medical professionals, patients, and workers as well as stymie efforts to fend off a “twindemic” amid the upcoming flu season and to mitigate “long COVID” cases.
TMA’s goal remains steadfast in “preserving a future that includes the ability to utilize and promote vaccines that work and defend what matters for Texans,” Mr. Alexander said.
Some Republican state officials, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have called for a fourth special session to address agenda items not passed during the third special session. But Governor Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, issued a statement on Oct. 20 rebuffing this request.
“Texans tasked the Legislature with delivering on key priorities for the state in this most recent special session, including property tax relief, redistricting, and the nearly $16 billion American Rescue Plan Act funding, and we went above and beyond to deliver on these priorities as well as solve other critical issues for Texas,” she wrote. “Because of the Texas House and Senate’s efforts to get these priorities across the finish line, there is no need for another special session at this time.”