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Pennsylvanians rally for legal rights

On June 14, roughly 125 Pennsylvanians participated in a rally on the steps of the Capitol Building in Harrisburg. They came from diverse political backgrounds and counties all over the state, but they had a common cause: fighting for the freedom to make their own medical choices, and to keep those choices private. The rallygoers are part of a growing grassroots movement in Pennsylvania and around the country.

Mandates for workers and children?

When Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer BNT162b2 on Dec. 11, 2020, no company or health care system mandated its use by employees. As of June 18, about six months later, 11 hospital systems, as well as all hospitals in Maryland and the District of Columbia, are mandating COVID-19 injections for employees. The Lancaster General Health facility, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, announced a COVID-19 shot mandate for its employees in May. LGH employees and health care workers in other states have filed suit against these mandates.

With many companies making plans to require employees to return to their offices, some Pennsylvanians are also worried that employers outside the health industry will require them to take an experimental (not FDA-approved) biological product as a condition of employment, which would set two precedents in one move.

Some parents are also concerned that COVID-19 shots will be added to state requirements for school-aged children before the beginning of the next school year, an administrative process run by unelected officials at the Pa. Department of Health. The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), added COVID-19 injections to the list of recommended immunizations for children ages 12 and older on May 12, just two days after Pfizer’s BNT162b2 received an expanded EUA from the FDA.

With these concerns in mind, medical choice advocates organized a rally under the banner “Health Freedom PA.” A diverse group of individuals gathered in front of the state capitol building at 10 a.m., and several public figures spoke for the next two hours on the topic of health freedom, largely as it relates to COVID-19 shot mandates and “vaccine passports.”

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) told the crowd about his daughter, who was bullied by her pediatric practice when she wanted to deviate from the federal vaccine schedule for her child. Metcalfe has introduced a bill (in the current session, HB286) that would prohibit doctors from denying care to families that do not choose to follow federal government vaccine recommendations. These recommendations currently include still-experimental COVID-19 shots for children 12 and older.

“We don’t consent to being forced to receive an experimental drug into our bodies that we wouldn’t otherwise choose,” Metcalfe said to the crowd.

In addition to natural health advocates, Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton/Centre), Rep. Russ Diamond, Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), also spoke at the rally. Borowicz talked about the Exeter HS prom in New Hampshire where children were marked with Sharpies to differentiate COVID-19-vaccinated from unvaccinated students, reminding the crowd, “In the past, that [discriminating against groups of people and marking them for identification] has never turned out well.” She said the rights of individuals to choose or refuse a COVID-19 shot should not be infringed by state governments in the name of public health.

The crowd cheered the speakers, but overall, was calm and quiet. Fountain Hill Borough Councilwoman Helen Halleman, a local Democrat with family members who attended the rally, shared her thoughts.

“I wouldn’t call it a protest,” she said, “because it was very orderly.” She voiced the view that children are making sacrifices and taking on unknown risks to their long-term health at a level unmerited by the situation. This view was common among rally participants, some of whom wore “My Child, My Choice” shirts. Signs at the rally included “COVID-19 Vaccine Makers Are Exempt from Liability” and “No Jab, No Job – No Way.”

Diana Campbell, founder of Health Freedom PA, shared her reasons for co-organizing the rally with the Press.

“First of all,” she explained, “to let people know there’s a community out there. This is such an emotionally charged subject. We want to respect everybody’s choice – sometimes you’re the only person in your family who wants to wait, and you’re shunned.”

Campbell was also motivated by a desire to share with the public information about risks that has been absent from the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of publicly funded advertising on behalf of the vaccines over the past six months.

Ultimately, for Health Freedom PA, the issues are personal choice and access to information. The group provides basic information about workplace and school rights through its website. For example, contrary to a popular misconception, parents who have a “strong moral or ethical conviction similar to a religious belief” leading them to oppose only certain shots for their children may file religious exemptions with their school district.

Campbell compared people who want more information on risks and benefits of COVID-19 shots to consumers discussing reports of mechanical failures in a particular model of car. She lamented the fact that parents considering even a single deviation from the federal schedule are tagged by public health figures and on social media with the label “anti-vaxxer.”

“’Anti-vaxxer’ is a term used to shut down conversations like this,” she said. “Don’t let the threat of [that label] stop you from learning something.”

Although the state lawmakers who addressed the crowd were all Republicans, the issue of medical freedom and bodily autonomy is resonating with voters of all political stripes across the state. Connie Cavara, a Pittsburgh nurse and mother who is also a registered Democrat, shared with the Press her reasons for getting involved in the health freedom movement.

“I have so many questions about [COVID-19 shots}: How does it affect fertility? How long does the body keep making the spike protein? Can the antibodies to the protein become involved in autoimmunity?”

These questions are swept aside or ignored by public health officials, Cavara contended.

“We’re painted as selfish,” she said. “We’re painted in a negative light for having questions and wanting to say No.”

Cavara is also concerned about the risk-benefit profile of the COVID-19 shots for young people.

“There are no long-term safety studies,” she noted, also remarking on the extremely low incidence of death and severe disease in the pediatric population.

Cavara believes that the freedom to make medical choices without coercion and with robust information “includes all groups. This is an everyone issue.”

She respects the choices made by people who have taken one of the emergency-authorized vaccines, but notes that they have a stake in this issue as well: “Even if you had [a COVID-19 shot], you should be alarmed [by mandates]. Are you OK with getting one every year?”

State legislators introduce bills to protect health freedom

In addition to Metcalfe’s bill, other pieces of health choice and health privacy legislation are being discussed in the Pa. General Assembly.

Pa. House Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) has sponsored House Bill 262, the Right to Refuse Act. This bill would prohibit employers from requiring mandatory invasive medical screenings and vaccinations in the workplace. The bill passed the House Labor and Industry Committee June 16.

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) and Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair) have sponsored Senate Bill 618. This bill would bar Pa., its counties, its municipalities, its school districts, and its publicly-funded universities from requiring proof of vaccination – colloquially known as “vaccine passports” – as well as banning universal face mask mandates and “quarantines” of individuals who are not ill and have no known exposure to a contagious individual. More information on this bill is available at Sen. Phillips-Hill’s website (https://senatorkristin.com/2021/06/14/house-committee-advances-proposal-to-ban-vaccine-passports-in-pa/). On June 9, the stateSenate passed SB618. Having passed the House Health Committee, it will go to the full House for a vote.

No legislation has yet been introduced barring the addition of an EUA vaccine from being added to the schedule required for school-aged children.

EUA vaccines currently outside Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

Because COVID-19 vaccines are available under EUA, rather than being fully approved vaccines for children, people experiencing a serious adverse event from one of these products do not have access to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a fund set up by 1986 legislation and administered by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS). VICP acts as a liability shield for vaccine manufacturers; people alleging vaccine injury sue the federal government for compensation instead.

However, people alleging injury from COVID-19 prevention or treatment products that are authorized under an EUA must work through the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), which operates in secrecy, not publishing judgments or details of claims. Decisions are made by an administrator who never interacts directly with participants in the proceedings. Journalists have used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to uncover the fact that only 8 percent of petitioners who have ever applied to CICP have received compensation.

Attorney Anne Carrión Toale, who represents vaccine injury petitioners in VICP, talked to the Press about how a person alleging injury after a COVID-19 injection would seek compensation. She told us that a person’s chances of receiving compensation are likely much higher in VICP than in CICP. “CICP does not have a table of injuries yet. Historically, they’ve compensated almost no one.”

By law, CICP awards only include compensation for proven medical expenses in excess of insurance coverage and limited payment for lost wages. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which administers the program, “CICP is the payer of last resort and can only reimburse or pay for medical services or items or lost employment income that are not covered by other third-party payers, such as Worker’s Compensation.” Individuals who were not earning an income at the time of injury are not eligible for income compensation, and there is no compensation for pain and suffering.

Philadelphia attorney David Carney of Green & Schafle, LLC, who represents individuals who have suffered injuries from vaccinations, explained why COVID-19 vaccine injury victims cannot bring a case through VICP: “In order for the COVID vaccine to be included in the VICP, it would need to be FDA approved for use in children and pregnant women, and then it would need to be subject to the excise tax that funds the VICP. Inclusion of the COVID vaccine in the VICP is a critical next step because we must provide a legal safety net for the small percentage of people that will suffer serious and rare adverse effects from the COVID vaccine.”

Carney added, “Currently, there is legislation pending that would streamline the process of adding new vaccines to the VICP after they are approved by the FDA. A process that normally takes years, would be truncated to six months when the legislation passes. The legislation is called The Vaccine Injury Compensation Modernization Act.” This bill, introduced June 10 by Mike Kelly (R-PA), Fred Upton (R-MI), and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), would allow HHS to move new vaccines to VICP without an act of Congress. (Kelly represents the 16th Pa. district, which covers the city of Erie and surrounding areas.)

PRESS PHOTO COURTESY OF REP. Stephanie BOROWICZ Rep. Stephanie Borowicz of Pa.'s 76th District speaks at the Health Freedom Rally June 14 in Harrisburg. Legislators have introduced bills to protect Pennsylvanians' health freedom into the General Assembly during this session.