ND Senate amends bill banning COVID-19 shots into vaccine study
The bill now goes to the state House of Representatives
BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate on Thursday, Feb. 9, amended and passed a bill for lawmakers to study vaccines, including shots for COVID-19.
Senate Bill 2384 would have banned messenger RNA vaccines in North Dakota and penalized providers with a misdemeanor charge. But sponsor Sen. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, asked the Senate to amend his bill into an optional 2023-24 interim legislative study of "the long-term health effects on human beings of vaccines" for respiratory syncytial virus and of mRNA vaccines.
The Senate adopted Magrum's amendments in a 26-21 vote and passed the bill in a 25-22 vote. The bill now goes to the state House of Representatives.
The Senate Human Services Committee had given the original bill a unanimous "do not pass" recommendation.
The Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 shots are mRNA vaccines. Supplies of other COVID-19 vaccines by Novavax and Janssen are expiring, and the federal government isn't purchasing additional doses, according to state Immunization Program Manager Molly Howell.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says mRNA vaccines use messenger RNA created in a lab to teach cells how to make a protein that triggers a body's immune system to produce antibodies protecting people from getting sick from a germ.
Study supporters said vaccines are a worthy study topic for the Legislature.
"I think this is valid. I think it's important. I think our constituents elected us to make these choices, hard choices, to look at things that are hard," said Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg.
Opponents said a study would yield little new information.
Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, who holds a bachelor's degree in medical technology, said the study is "not going to be a valuable asset in order to be able to prove anything. It's just going to be an exercise in futility."
Some lawmakers with medical backgrounds disagreed on the need for a study.
Sen. Judy Estenson, R-Warwick, who is a retired registered nurse, said: "I think people in North Dakota deserve for the Legislature to at least try to make an attempt to dispel what's true or what's not true and come to some conclusions. ... I think it's an exercise in an attempt to bring out the truth."
Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo, who is a registered nurse, said: "We don't know a lot about this right now, and that might be an argument for a study, but I have a hard time believing that a legislative study is going to find out a lot more about scientific proof than a true scientific study."
The bill mandates study input from the state Department of Health and Human Services, and also reviews of "the potential health risks of the vaccines" and of "the cost of treatment and diagnostics for individuals who suffer any physical injury due to receiving a vaccine" for RSV or an mRNA vaccine.
Study recommendations would go to the 2025 Legislature.
At the end of 2022 nearly 70% of North Dakota adults were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with the rate for all vaccine-eligible people — age 5 and older — at about 63%, according to federal data. That compared with 64% and 57%, respectively, at the end of 2021. North Dakota still lags behind the national rates.
More than 1 million doses of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been administered in North Dakota.
The Legislature, like in 2021, is weighing several vaccine-related bills, including ones that would ban health care employers and colleges from promoting and mandating COVID-19 shots, and would ban vaccination requirements and criminalize them with a felony charge.