A First-Hand Account of What It Is Like to Testify at the Statehouse
On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, I testified on behalf of the Indiana Immunization Coalition (IIC) at the Indiana Statehouse on Senate Bill 74. This bill would prevent Indiana employers from mandating employee vaccinations by offering religious and conscience exemptions. The IIC opposes the bill; it could lower vaccination rates and put more people at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. Katie van Tornhout, an active Hoosiers Vaccinate member and strong vaccine advocate, drove from South Bend to testify, too.
I registered to testify the evening before the Senate hearing and planned my talking points, and went to bed excited but a little nervous and unsure what to expect. The morning of the hearing, Katie and I found our room in the Statehouse. There was a sizeable group of people waiting outside – fifty or so. After a quick and easy check-in, we joined the group waiting.
The group was eclectic – I assumed there were people there to testify both for and against Senate Bill 74. This legislative session has different testimony procedures given the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and it was unclear how testimony would work. I asked a Statehouse employee about the process, and he informed me that the Senate committee members would testify in one room. We would virtually testify via a laptop in another (you could see the committee while you testified). Due to social-distancing, only a few people were allowed in the room at a time.
At 9:30 am, the first person was called into the room to testify. Outside of the room, there was a flat-screen television that was showing the testimony. When it was my turn, I felt a bit nervous. I collected myself, made myself comfortable at the computer, took out my talking points (you are permitted to have notes with you), addressed the committee, and began my presentation.
I focused on how the Bill applies to all vaccines, not only the newly-developed SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, and how personal liberties cut both ways: by deciding not to vaccinate, you choose to put someone else at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases potentially. I also emphasized that there is already a religious exemption in place, so there is no need to add another exemption type.
One Senator, John Crane (who I have met with twice in person and represents my district), expressed concern about mandates about anything people put in their bodies; he wanted my feedback. I told Senator Crane that this is certainly something that needs to be carefully considered and not taken lightly and that mandates should not apply to all medicines in all contexts. However, I emphasized that vaccines have enough evidence to be required in some circumstances, such as healthcare workers who treat patients.
Testifying at the Indiana Statehouse was a great experience! It was easy to register, and it was little effort to park, enter the Statehouse, and get to our room. As with any public speaking opportunity, it was a bit scary, but that subsided once I began talking. It was an excellent opportunity to advocate for vaccines, and I recommend it to all Hoosiers Vaccinate members!
Patrick Glew is a husband, father of two, and Program Manager at the Indiana Immunization Coalition.