Ohio governor opposes anti-vaccination bill after conspiracy theorists claim vaccines 'magnetized' people

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Gov. Mike DeWine came out against a controversial bill that would weaken Ohio's vaccination laws and grant more individual freedom, after false claims at a hearing on the bill that coronavirus vaccines "magnetized" people drew mockery and anger across the internet.

On Thursday, DeWine said he opposes House Bill 248 and asked Ohioans to think of the impact vaccines have had on society.

"Before modern medicine, diseases such as mumps, polio, whooping cough were common and caused great, great, great suffering and death to thousands of people every single year," said DeWine during a news conference on the latest Vax-a-Million winners.

Hearings on House Bill 248 have drawn national attention as advocates have spread misinformation and conspiracies. Testimony from Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, of Middleburg Heights in Cuyahoga County, and nurse Joanna Overholt of Strongsville drew derision and mockery on Twitter and landed in the national press, including the Washington Post, CNN and Forbes.

"I'm sure you've seen the pictures all over the internet of people who have had these shots and now they're magnetized," Tenpenny said at the hearing. "You can put a key on their forehead, it sticks. You can put spoons and forks all over and they can stick because now we think there is a metal piece to that."

That claim is false.

Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, defended the decision to give a platform to purveyors of misinformation. "Those kind of things are aberrations. Most of the people who come to testify provide very valuable information to the committee as they deliberate on proposed legislation," Cupp said when asked about Tenpenny.

More: Fact check: COVID-19 vaccines don't cause magnetic reactions or contain tracking devices

House Bill 248 would:

  • Block employers from mandating vaccinations as a condition of employment.

  • Allow Ohioans to skip any vaccination by making a written or verbal declaration and require health districts, schools or other government agencies to let Ohioans know how they can opt out.

  • Require schools to explicitly tell parents of existing law that allows them to skip childhood vaccinations because of medical, religious or "reasons of conscience."

  • Prohibit forcing unvaccinated people to wear masks, be relegated to separate areas or face other punishments.

  • Allow for civil lawsuits for violations of the bill.

  • Block health departments, schools or other government agencies from mandating participation in a vaccine registry.

  • Repeal a requirement that college students be vaccinated against hepatitis B and meningitis before being allowed to live in the dorms.

While DeWine has advocated for vaccines, he has stopped short of calling on Ohio to remove the "reasons of conscience" exemption from state law. That catch-all exemption allows parents to skip childhood immunizations for nearly any reason.

Cupp said "Current state law has worked pretty well, quite frankly."

The Yellow Springs News published a photo in April 1955 of DeWine receiving his polio vaccine as a second grader.

"Polio struck fear, absolute terror, in parents. People altered their behavior with their children. Their willingness to go to a ball game or to go to a swimming pool with their children in the summer. People were terrified. Polio is eradicated," said DeWine.

State Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, who is a medical doctor and holds a PhD in public health, said HB 248 is a dangerous bill that lead to more death and disease.

"Not only would it prevent schools, businesses and communities from putting safety measures in pace related to COVID, it will impact the health of our children," she has said. "This bill applies to all vaccines — polio, measles, meningitis, etc. If it becomes law we will see worsening measles outbreaks, meningitis in the dorms, and children once again suffering from polio."

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio GOP Gov. Mike DeWine opposes anti-vaccine bill