JEFFERSON CITY — More than three years since the designation of COVID-19 as a pandemic, Missouri House members spent part of Tuesday afternoon debating whether COVID-19 vaccines save lives.

A bill sponsored by state Rep. Bill Hardwick, R-Waynesville, would prohibit public schools and public agencies from implementing COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

The bill would require universities and private sector employers who have COVID-19 vaccines requirements to grant exemptions to students and employees who hold a “sincerely held religious belief” or have a written recommendation from a licensed physician.

Hardwick sponsored a similar bill he last year.

The House debate revealed the persistence of a stark partisan divide on COVID-19. Democrats opposed the bill, arguing that health experts who say COVID-19 vaccines save lives should be trusted. Republican supporters of the legislation cast doubt on the efficacy and safety of vaccines.

Rep. Michael Burton, D-Lakeshire, opposed the bill during floor debate. “From what all the health professionals have told us … these COVID vaccines have saved millions of lives,” he said.

Burton asked Rep. Lisa Thomas, R-Lake Ozark, a psychiatrist, if she believes COVID-19 vaccines have saved lives.

“It’s possible,” Thomas replied. “But I don’t see a tremendous amount of data in that respect … It does not prevent you from getting the illness or passing it on.”

Bill sponsor Hardwick said he was unsure if COVID-19 vaccines have saved more lives than they’ve taken.

Rep. Patty Lewis, a Kansas City Democrat and a nurse, said it is necessary to lean on guidance from health experts like epidemiologists for information about COVID-19 and encouraged her colleagues to vote “no” on the bill.

The bill ultimately received preliminary House approval on a voice vote despite vocal opposition. It needs to be approved one more time by the House before it heads to the Senate.

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online. 

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.