‘Hugely disappointing’: Scientists, doctors denounce Idaho plan to criminalize mRNA vaccines

An overhead view of the Statehouse.

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An Idaho proposal to criminalize administering mRNA vaccines, which have been used to inoculate against COVID-19, is meeting fierce criticism from medical experts across the nation.

Republican lawmakers state Sen. Tammy Nichols and Rep. Judy Boyle introduced the controversial measure last week.

Speaking to Idaho’s House Health and Welfare committee, Nichols claimed hearing growing concerns about technology for the COVID-19 vaccines being fast-tracked.

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“There’s no informed consent,” she said, explaining that there have been concerns about the relationship between mRNA vaccines and blood clots and heart issues. The lawmaker did not give examples or cite data to support her statements.

She suggested that the state approach the ban on mRNA vaccines similarly to how it punishes illegal drug use.

The mRNA technology has been used in both Moderna’s and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines. If the Idaho measure passes, administering a shot with mRNA would be considered a misdemeanor, according to the proposed legislation. In Idaho, misdemeanors can be punishable by up to six months in jail.

“Did she miss a few lessons during high school biology? Or does she really hope to stop protein production in Idaho?” posted Dr. Michal Tal, an immunoengineer with MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering on Twitter.

Tal was one of a chorus of experts who took to social media to pan the Idaho bill and sound the alarm about the harmful ripple effects of prohibiting mRNA vaccine technology.

Professionals pointed out that mRNA is found naturally in every cell in the body and helps with producing proteins located in muscles, bones, skin, hair and throughout the body. Eventually these proteins help provide oxygen to the bloodstream.

“This goes to show that the lack of effective science communication can have real world consequences,” commented Ajit Johnson Nirmal, a cancer geneticist at Harvard.

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According to Nichols’ legislative biography, she is a “graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho with a degree in science” and has experience in the “banking and medical industries.”

Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, a medical officer with the World Health Organization, expressed her frustrations over the legislation.

“It’s really unfortunate that people don’t realize what a true scientific breakthrough the development of the mRNA vaccine technology has been for science and how many lives it has saved,” she said on Twitter.

“The continued politicization of vaccines is hugely disappointing.”

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The Idaho bill comes on the heels of numerous attempts from conservative lawmakers challenging COVID-19 mandates that require people be vaccinated to go to work or school.

In 2021, Montana made it illegal for employers and government entities to enforce vaccine mandates.

Researchers have used mRNA for studies to help develop treatments for HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis, in addition to flu and lyme disease vaccines.

In 2022, scientists at Duke University found that mRNA was effective in progressing research that could potentially lead to inoculation to fight HIV, which disproportionately affects men who have sex with men, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Roughly 330,000 gay and bisexual men have died from stage three HIV since 1980, based on data from the CDC.

The biggest question medical professionals asked was how the Idaho law would be enforced. A surgeon commented on Twitter: “Will there be a grandfather provision for the 1.9 million Idahoans with preexisting mRNA in their bodies?”

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