JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Six Republican state senators have asked Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session to stop private businesses from requiring their employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
"I believe in the vaccine, but I don't believe in coercion and that's the reason we sent the letter to the governor," Missouri Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis) said of the request.
The request made Monday drew a quick rebuke from Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who said in a statement Thursday that courts, along with federal and state laws, have consistently upheld employers' rights to require vaccinations.
As the delta variant continues to cause a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, some businesses, such as restaurants and nightclubs in St. Louis and Kansas City, have said they will require workers and customers to be vaccinated.
"It'd be great if we could have some politicians that support us to keep the small building businesses open," Rehab Bar & Grill manager Angela Basta said. "We have 15 employees. Two of them gets sick and all of us have to quarantine, we cannot be open."
Missouri recorded 14,339 confirmed cases of the disease over the last seven days, with a daily average of 2,048, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services. Only 41.8% of the state's residents were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. That trailed the national average of 49.9% and significantly lagged behind the most vaccinated state, Vermont, at 67.7%.
Parson's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The governor has refused to issue any statewide mandates in response to the pandemic but has said he believes private businesses have a right to make their own decisions about COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The letter sent to Parson focused on requiring employees to be vaccinated, saying doing so "puts Missourians in the position of choosing between their livelihoods and their right to control their own lives."
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The state senators also said the Food and Drug Administration has not given full approval to the vaccine and questioned whether employers would protect the rights of disabled employees or those who object to the vaccine on religious grounds.
"It's not our job to force it nor is it the job of businesses and employers to force the vaccine," the letter said. "Our job is to safeguard the rights and liberties of the people we represent."
The vaccines currently in use in the United States were given emergency use authorization by the FDA.
There were no shortcuts in the vaccine process, but Operation Warp speed made it more efficient.
“The emergency use authorization, all it did was speed up the administration and production parts, it actually did not cut any corners on safety,” said Dr. JoAnn Jose, SSM St. Louis University Hospital infectious disease specialist,
In the history of vaccines, doctors say, widespread severe side effects have always become evident early enough in the process that we would know about them by now. The vaccines approved in the United States actually involved more people in the initial trials than most.
The letter was signed by state Sens. Rick Brattin, of Harrisonville; Bill Eigel, of Weldon Spring; Denny Hoskins, of Warrensburg; Mike Moon, of Ash Grove; Bob Onder, of Lake Saint Louis; and Holly Rehder, of Sikeston.
Mehan said the chamber believes vaccinations are the key to the state's economic recovery and "the only way Missouri can begin to put his pandemic behind us." He also said federal and state laws, as well as the courts, have consistently upheld private business owners' right to require vaccines.
"The Missouri Chamber stands against attempts to place reckless new restrictions on the state's business community," Mehan said. "Employers have long had the ability to mandate vaccinations and the Missouri Chamber believes all employers should continue to have this right when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine."
Basta agrees, saying the vaccines for staff and patrons will help them avoid any returns to more severe restrictions.
"We just pray for her to get back to normal, honestly," she said.