Anti-vaccine activists hold Capitol rally ahead of redistricting session

By: - October 5, 2021 10:46 am

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, addressed a crowd of anti-vaccination activists at the Iowa State Capitol. (Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Several hundred Iowans gathered in the Capitol Rotunda before Tuesday’s special session to rally against vaccine mandates.

“I’m thrilled to see all of you, but I’m actually aggravated that we have to be here at all. Who would have thought, in America, in Iowa, we would have to come to plead for our rights and our liberty?” said Tamara Scott, a national committeewoman for the Republican Party. A row of children stood behind her holding handmade signs that read “The final variant is communism” and “Proudly unpoisoned.”

Lawmakers do not plan to consider legislation on vaccine requirements during today’s special session.

Speakers at the rally called on Gov. Kim Reynolds or legislators to call another special session to consider the issue, and they encouraged the crowd to reach out to lawmakers. Several speakers noted that lawmakers had not been responsive to calls and emails from their group.

Two of Iowa’s most vaccine-critical lawmakers, Rep. Sandy Salmon and Rep. Jeff Shipley, spoke at the event which was hosted by the anti-vaxx group Informed Choice Iowa. Shipley was a fan-favorite, with the crowd chanting “We want Jeff!” ahead of his appearance.

“We have not just COVID-19, but we have totalitarian fever, and that is what we have to eradicate,” said Salmon, R-Janesville, arguing that vaccine mandates violate the fourth amendment of the Constitution.

Shipley, R-Birmingham, asked “why even bother” drawing new congressional maps if President Joe Biden will mandate policies in Iowa. He told the crowd they were leaders for freedom and liberty.

“There are scared lines that must not be crossed. There is the sacred line of medical freedom,” Shipley said. “Does anyone really think this vaccine mandate will be the end of it?”

What vaccine requirements does Iowa have?

The state government of Iowa has imposed no COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Reynolds has maintained throughout the pandemic that the decision to get vaccinated and the decision to wear a mask should be a personal choice.

Lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year to prohibit local governments and private businesses that receive government funding from requiring proof of vaccination. Iowa also passed a law that prohibits schools from requiring students or staff to wear masks. A federal judge has temporarily blocked that law. 

But Iowa is affected by federal vaccine requirements. President Joe Biden instated a vaccination requirement for federal employees. Employees of large businesses must be vaccinated or receive weekly tests. Nursing homes that receive Medicaid or Medicare dollars must also ensure their staff is vaccinated against COVID-19.

Many private businesses also require employees to be vaccinated. Several large healthcare companies in Iowa, including UnityPoint and MercyOne, require vaccinations.

After the vote on redistricting, Republican leaders in the Senate told reporters they were concerned by federal vaccine requirements, but they declined to offer specific plans to legislate on the issue.

“To solve that is a really difficult thing to do from the state capital,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver. “I mean, these are really federal issues that override state law.”

Whitver, R-Ankeny, and Senate President Jake Chapman pointed toward the courts system as another pathway to challenge federal requirements.

“We’ve got issues in the court system right now, and it always becomes a little challenging when you start interjecting legislative ideas, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t,’ said Chapman, R-Adel. “We will consider anything and everything that folks bring to us.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.