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Vaccine law hinders efforts to keep our community safe

by Daily Inter Lake
| August 29, 2021 12:00 AM

The ongoing Covid pandemic resulted in some interesting laws passed by the Montana Legislature.

One of those laws, born from House Bill 702, prohibits a business from forcing employees to disclose their vaccination status or requiring workers to receive certain types of vaccinations as a condition for employment, deeming such actions as discrimination and a violation of the state’s human rights laws.

Montana is the only state in the country to have enacted such a law, essentially restricting the ability of Montana businesses to provide a safe, Covid-free workplace.

As of Aug. 26, about 59% of Flathead County residents eligible to receive the Covid vaccine haven’t done so. This means that, with this law in place, the majority of county residents are now in a protected class, possibly for the first time ever.

Over the years many laws, mostly federal, have been put in place to make sure people aren’t discriminated against due to their race or sex. These protected classes make sense.

We can’t say the same about the effect of this new law, and believe it is hindering efforts to keep our businesses open and our community safe as cases of the more contagious delta variant surge.

State health officials note that unvaccinated people are nearly 30 times more likely to be hospitalized from Covid than those who have received the FDA-approved shot that is widely available for free.

Unfortunately, with the Flathead’s low number of vaccinations and an infection rate near 14%, Logan Health Medical Center is swamped with Covid patients. At one point last week, 41 people stricken with the virus were admitted to the hospital’s Covid unit. That surpasses the peak of the pandemic last fall.

Across the state, health-care facilities are maxed out. And according to one report, the crush of new cases has forced some hospitals to hold patients in emergency rooms or even send patients out of state.

And make no mistake, the frontline health-care workers serving our community are burned out and frustrated that more isn’t being done to increase the vaccination rate.

In response, physicians have called on the Legislature to reverse the vaccine law, with Dr. Pamela Cutler, president of the Montana Medical Association, saying it “is against everything we’ve ever known or believed about public health.”

It’s worth noting that the law isn’t just about the Covid shot. It also bans companies in Montana from requiring employees to get most vaccines approved by the Centers for Disease Control, including the annual flu shot. This is especially troublesome for hospitals and assisted living facilities housing the most vulnerable — putting both the patient and worker at risk.

RIGHT OR WRONG, the Covid vaccine has become an emotional and political issue, and people are not making decisions based on science.

Often, in an effort to justify one’s belief, people are searching the internet to find something that supports their preconceived notions about the shot — it’s called bias confirmation. Dig deep enough on the web and eventually one will find what they are looking for. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be true, and it could even be deadly.

Sadly, the FDA recently had to publish a warning explaining why people should not use Ivermectin — a livestock dewormer — to treat or prevent Covid. Please, if you have questions about Covid or the vaccine, talk to your physician or visit the health department.

People on both sides of the political aisle are getting vaccinated, former President Trump, Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, and Gov. Greg Gianforte included. Follow their lead.

Vaccinations have made it possible for future generations to live without fear of many diseases. A member of this editorial board has relatives who were stricken with Polio and Tuberculosis. The relative with Polio lived a long and fruitful life, while the other didn’t survive. Over the years, enough people have received Polio and TB vaccines to cause herd immunity. Follow their lead.

We’ll continue to foster the conversation about Covid and vaccines on our opinion pages. One thing we won’t do is censor letters with opposing views, something that has been suggested by some people. If you disagree with us or other letter writers, we welcome your rebuttal.

But while you are trying to decide what to say, stop by the Flathead County Health Department or local pharmacy and get vaccinated.

We will all be better off with you doing so.