Iowa GOP Senators Spew Vaccine Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories During COVID Discussion

Screenshot of Iowa Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) during an Iowa Senate subcommittee meeting.

By Nikoel Hytrek

March 18, 2022

In a meeting where conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine rhetoric were shared heavily by elected officials, the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill banning COVID-19 vaccine requirements for enrollment at child care centers, K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities.

HF 2298 passed on Wednesday with the five Democratic senators voting “no.” The bill would apply to in-person and virtual attendance at schools and daycares and stay in effect until July 1, 2029.

During discussion of the bill, Sens. Jeff Taylor (R-Sioux Center) and Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) launched into conspiracy theories about the vaccines. They cast doubt about whether they’re effective or necessary to protect people from the COVID-19 virus and its mutations that have killed more than 6 million people worldwide, more than 950,000 of whom were Americans.

In Iowa, more than 9,300 people have died because of COVID.

“This bill actually does address, in my mind, the diminishing confidence in vaccines, because we need to put to rest that the COVID vaccine is an effective and safe vaccine,” Schultz said. “It is an attempt that didn’t work.”

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But the vaccines are effective and d0 work. Last spring, vaccines created based on the original COVID-19 virus led to falling rates of hospitalizations and cases worldwide, especially when it was paired with distancing, mask-wearing in crowded spaces, and the weather.

The Associated Press reported in June 2021 that only 1.1% of May COVID hospitalizations were fully-vaccinated people. Also, only 0.8% of COVID deaths that May were people who were fully vaccinated. That works out to about 150 people out of more than 18,000 deaths.

The trend changed with the Delta variant, which was the newest mutation of the virus and the dominant strain in the United States in July 2021.

Taylor said this legislation was necessary because COVID-19 isn’t a virus that targets children and there shouldn’t be requirements for them to be vaccinated in order to attend daycare or school. Many Iowa daycares are private businesses and no school in Iowa requires COVID vaccines, except for Grinnell College, a private school.

“I think partly we have to look at the risk. What are the pre-existing conditions and the risk of a child contracting COVID,” Taylor said.

Nearly 12.8 million people under 18 years old have tested positive for COVID since March 2020. As of March 10, children were 18.9% of reported weekly COVID-19 cases. This is according to state-reported data collected by the American Academy of Pediatrics as of March 10.

During the Omicron wave, children were hospitalized at a higher rate than they had been in previous waves. It was especially bad for children under 5, who were hospitalized at five times the rate they had been previously.

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Taylor also suggested the COVID vaccines aren’t safe, and it would be different to require them if they had been around for longer.

This is contrary to data and the expert conclusions of the medical community and infectious disease specialists.

Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) said this bill is worrying for a number of reasons, but mostly because it’s adding to people no longer trusting vaccines that have long been required.

“This legislation, I think, is dangerous. It continues to erode public confidence in safe, effective vaccinations for things like mumps, measles, rubella, polio, whooping cough, diphtheria,” he said. “Those vaccinations that probably everybody on this side of the table got when we were children and didn’t think twice about.”

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Bolkcom cited a Des Moines Register poll from March 13 where 28% of Iowans said Iowa should have no vaccination requirements for children and 14% said there’s should be broad exemptions available. The poll also said 21% supported limited exemptions and 34% said vaccines should be required unless a doctor says there’s a medical reason they shouldn’t be.

“I don’t know why we’re allowing these anti-science, anti-public health zealots make everybody unsafe in Iowa,” Bolkcom said.

“We right now have reduced rates of vaccinations for these very vaccinations today because the anti-vaccination people have put in people’s minds that all vaccinations suddenly are a problem,” he said. “And I just think that it’s going to be bad for our kids. It’s going to be bad for people that work in child care settings in our schools.”


Nikoel Hytrek


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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].



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