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Parson executive order allows state employees to forgo COVID-19 vaccine for religious, medical reasons

Ahead of Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s lawsuit challenging a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Gov. Mike Parson issued an executive order allowing individuals in the executive branch of the state government to forgo the inoculation for medical or religious reasons. 

The order says any entity within the executive branch of the state government cannot compel individuals to get the COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of federal mandates, if the person objects because of medical or religious reasons.

The state’s agencies, boards, and other entities cannot penalize employees or businesses that do not comply with a federal vaccine mandate because of religious or medical objections either, according to the executive order. 

“As governor of the state of Missouri, I stand with concerned Missourians and will do all I can to stop federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” Parson said. “When President Biden announced his initial plans to force unconstitutional vaccine mandates, we immediately began aligning state resources for legal action. While we hoped the Biden administration would recognize these mandates as the abuse of authority that they are, they have not, and we must now use every tool we have available to fight this federal intrusion.” 

“Let me be clear, we continue to encourage all Missourians to get vaccinated. We can support vaccination without supporting mandates,” Parson continued. “We are issuing this order to protect our system of government and the individual rights of Missourians to make their own health care decisions.”

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However, some conservative members of the Missouri Legislature don’t think Parson’s executive order goes far enough.

“While I appreciate the Governor granting exemptions for ‘medical or religious’ reasons, he needs to take this one step farther,” Sen. Denny Hoskins said in a text message to The Missouri Times. “The federal government should not be mandating the vaccine at all, regardless of what reason you have for not wanting the vaccine, not just for religious/medical reasons. The vaccine is a personal decision and should remain so.”

Sen. Bill Eigel said the order “creates more questions about what — if anything — the state is doing to protect our rights than it answers.”

“It appears to me that this executive order does little to nothing as it only covers the 50,000 state employees in Jefferson City. It does not cover any private sector employee nor does it cover any public employee working for a local government like the city of St. Louis,” Eigel told The Missouri Times. “I am also now concerned that employees within the executive branch were being unconstitutionally forced to inject this vaccine over their objection which necessitated the [executive order]. Regardless, 6.1 million other Missourians will continue without protection from vaccination mandates on Gov. Parson’s watch.”

President Joe Biden has signed executive orders mandating federal employees and contractors receive a COVID-19 vaccine. He has also unveiled plans for companies with at least 100 employees to require employees to be vaccinated or submit to frequent testing. 

On Wednesday, Schmitt said he will file a lawsuit this week in opposition to the federal mandate for contractors and contracted employees. Florida’s governor and attorney general filed a lawsuit to stop the mandates earlier Thursday. 

A spokesperson for the attorney general said Missouri’s lawsuit will “likely” be filed Friday morning.

Parson’s executive order also mandates those within the state’s executive branch “cooperate fully and timely” with Schmitt’s litigation “against any federally imposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate or requirement.” 

“The Constitution and its historical interpretations clearly leave public health decisions to the states. The federal government has no authority to issue COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” Parson said. “The Biden administration acting alone to dictate and mandate health requirements represents the kind of federal power grab the founding fathers warned us against.” 

House Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade blasted Parson’s executive order as only “promot[ing] the attorney general’s latest frivolous lawsuit at taxpayer expense.”

“If these two put as much energy into fighting the pandemic as they do into fighting those fighting the pandemic, Missouri would be in a much stronger position,” Quade said.

Representatives from Missouri’s business and health care communities warned lawmakers during a recent House hearing of potential ramifications from a sweeping vaccine mandate. 

“The entire health care industry right now, the health care system right now, is burned out,” Nikki Strong, executive director of the Missouri Health Care Association, said at the time. “To put additional strain and pressure on our workers who — for whatever reason, whatever belief they have, whether it’s taking the vaccine, taking a test daily, or whatever that mandate may be — is going to continue to decimate our workforce.” 

Meanwhile, business groups have implored the White House to move the deadline as concerns over shipping delays and worker shortages have already put a strain on the upcoming holiday season. 

This story has been updated to include comments from members of the General Assembly.