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In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, David Cheng, director of inpatient pharmacy, prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center in Los Angeles. (AP) In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, David Cheng, director of inpatient pharmacy, prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center in Los Angeles. (AP)

In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, David Cheng, director of inpatient pharmacy, prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center in Los Angeles. (AP)

Dave Boucher
By Dave Boucher May 6, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • Michigan lawmakers heard testimony from Naomi Wolf during a House Oversight Committee hearing on banning on vaccine passports.
  • Wolf was one of 11 who spoke in favor of proposed legislation that would ban the government from implementing vaccine passports or requiring vaccinations. She has repeatedly shared false and misleading information about COVID-19 and many other topics.

  • Spokespeople for the governor and state health department said the state is not exploring the vaccine passport concept.

Michigan House Republicans, discussing a bill to ban "vaccine passports," gave a legislative platform to Naomi Wolf, an avowed conspiracy theorist who has shared wildly false claims, ranging from Bill Gates modifying mosquitos so they can inject people with vaccines to vaccinations causing irregular menstruation. 

Wolf came to the House Oversight Committee May 6 to voice support for the ban on vaccine passports, a form of documentation that states or businesses could theoretically use to check people for proof of vaccination.

Republican lawmakers have introduced a series of bills that would ban vaccine passports, and included similar language in several budget measures. 

At no point has Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services ever said they planned to require vaccinations. However, the University of Michigan and other colleges plan to require vaccinations for students who choose to live on campus next year. 

"The state has been very clear that they’re not currently exploring a vaccine passport concept," said Bobby Leddy, a Whitmer spokesman. 

Lynn Sutfin, a health department spokeswoman, decried the hearing and urged residents to go to trusted medical sources for vaccine information.

"At a time when the governor has set benchmarks for getting out of the pandemic, it is confusing why the legislature would spend time discussing a topic that neither (the health department) or the governor have considered, and relying on individuals with no medical background or expertise to provide testimony," Sutfin said.

Wolf was one of a series of speakers who at times voiced false and misleading statements about vaccines; several likened them to measures enacted during the Holocaust. That drew a rebuke from Democratic Rep. Julie Brixie. 

"I would be remiss if I didn't state for the record that the comparisons of the COVID vaccine to systemic racism, segregation and the Holocaust are appalling and abhorrent," she said at the end of the roughly 90-minute hearing. 

The committee discussed a bill from Republican Rep. Sue Allor. The measure would ban the government from requiring vaccines or developing passports to document vaccination. Allor said she will not get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"Although the conversation at this point in time is specific to a COVID-19 vaccine passport, we must ask ourselves the question: 'If this is allowed, what might the next step be?'" Allor said during the hearing. 

"Would an individual with a history of having received counseling be prevented from a great job opportunity? Would a female be denied a job opportunity because medical records indicate she has children, and the potential employer believes she has too many children to do the job well? Although you could say these questions are hypothetical ... the fact is, if these hypothetical questions did become realities, it would then be too late."

But as Brixie noted, the broad definition of "vaccine passport" in the bill could prevent medical providers from sharing vaccination information with state health officials. Democratic Rep. David LaGrand also said it's generally a bad idea for the Legislature to ban something that isn't in use or created. 

"There's infinite numbers of things that we could ban preemptively," LaGrand said, adding: "I think our job, frankly, is to take action and set policy on things that are actively under consideration." 

Allor acknowledged she has not heard that Whitmer, the state health department or federal officials support implementing vaccine mandates. She is also working to change the bill; she appeared to have a different version of the bill than lawmakers on the committee, prompting confusion and debates over discrepancies in language between the two versions. 

Committee Chairman Steven Johnson, a Republican, said the discussion Thursday was important. 

"The intention is very clear: We want to make sure the government is not creating two tiers of citizens based on personal medical decisions," he said. 

Johnson did not immediately respond to questions about why Wolf was invited to speak or whether the committee Republicans agreed with any of her views. Gideon D'Assandro, a spokesman for House Speaker Jason Wentwork, did not directly answer questions about Wolf's views. He said it's up to committee leaders to decide how to use their time.

Wolf was one of 11 people who spoke in favor of the bill Thursday. She has repeatedly shared false and misleading information about COVID-19 — and many other topics. 

Examples of ideas espoused or promoted by Wolf in the past through social media or as reported by several media outlets include: 

  • That masks do not stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • That COVID-19 vaccines cause anything from death to irregular menstruation in women who are around vaccinated women.
  • That the Moderna vaccine could be used to implant microchips into the body.
  • That Bill Gates created genetically modified mosquitos that could inject people with the vaccine.
  • That during the Ebola crisis, the U.S. sent forces to Africa not to help, but so the troops would return home with the disease and justify a military takeover of the country. 

While testifying, Wolf aired theories that vaccine-related apps on cellphones are tracking people, listening in on conversations about how they view vaccinations and potentially using that information. 

Lawmakers did not vote on Allor's measure Thursday, but Johnson said it is his intention to vote on the bill next week.

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Michigan lawmakers invite COVID-19 conspiracy theorist to testify on bill to ban vaccine passports