More than a dozen Republicans in the state Assembly put forward a measure that would let workers, including those in health care, get around vaccine requirements if they have already contracted COVID-19.
A bill to allow so-called COVID-19 “natural immunity” as a substitute for proof of vaccination or a negative test got a hearing before an Assembly committee on Wednesday, days after US Sen. Ron Johnson said in an interview on conservative talk radio, “Why do we think that we can create something better than God in terms of combating disease?”
“Ron Johnson’s latest comments on the vaccine are a slap in the face to health care workers across Wisconsin who continue to struggle to care for the overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients who refused to get vaccinated,” Dr. Ann Helms, a Brookfield neurologist and Wisconsin State lead with Committee to Protect Care stated in a press release. “The safe, effective vaccines have saved countless lives across Wisconsin, while so called ‘natural’ infection has killed over 10,000 of our fellow Wisconsinites and caused severe health problems for many more. Johnson’s promotion of getting sick instead of taking the highly effective vaccine is not only ridiculous, it’s downright deadly.”
Introduced by more than a dozen Republican lawmakers in the Assembly, the “natural immunity” bill would allow employees to circumvent workplace vaccination and testing requirements. Proponents of the bill falsely stated that immunity from exposure to COVID-19 is as good or better than immunity through immunization.
“While it seems like [natural immunity] should be similar to antibodies created in response to immunization, this is not the case,” Helms told UpNorthNews via email. “Immune responses after infection are unpredictable in effectiveness and in how long they last. In other words, having had COVID does not reliably create lasting antibodies against future infection even if you have had a bad case.”
The main testimony on the effectiveness of “natural immunity” was from Aaron Henkel, a naturopath from Madison. Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) asked Henkel about his license, and Henkel said he is licensed in Washington because Wisconsin does not license naturopathy.
While some medical doctors receive naturopathic training in using herbs, massage, acupuncture, exercise and nutrition, naturopaths are not trained in medical schools. And while some patients may see benefits to some practices, researchers question the scientific soundness of their methods, particularly when they interfere with medical treatments from licensed physicians.
Henkel compared COVID-19 to chicken pox, telling the committee that “no question, I would be willing to do anything I need to to make sure [my] kids never get vaccinated [for COVID].” Chickenpox kills approximately 100 people in the US every year according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2021, 439,481 Americans died from COVID.
Henkel added that “in his personal opinion” adults under the age of 70 without underlying illnesses were better off just getting COVID and “dealing with it”, than getting the vaccine.
Republican lawmakers on the committee touted the bills as a way to fill labor shortages, particularly in the healthcare sector. In response to concerns from the American Cancer Society that unvaccinated medical workers could infect cancer patients with the virus, Rep. Dave Murphy (R-Greenville) said he was “strongly against” mandating vaccines, adding: “If I were a cancer patient, I would rather have a doctor or nurse that’s unvaccinated than to not have one at all.”
Cancer and cancer treatments weaken the immune system, so cancer patients, particularly those with blood cancers, are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Furthermore, the Wisconsin Hospital Association reported that healthcare systems across the state have lost less than 2% of their workforce due to vaccine requirements. At Advocate Aurora Health, which is the state’s largest healthcare system, the loss is less than 1%.
UpNorthNews attempted to schedule an interview with a doctor through the Committee to Protect Care to discuss the arguments in more detail, but a spokesperson said “doctors are telling us they’re swamped with COVID.”