U.S. Rep. Andy Harris told Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce members that the benefits of Covid-19 vaccines far outweigh the risks, especially for older adults and people who have pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems.
“There’s no question about it,” he said.
But the Republican congressman, who is also a physician, said he draws the line at vaccine requirements, comparing it to forcing someone with a limp to get a hip replacement.
“My problem with anything that mandates this vaccine is that it eliminates informed consent,” Harris told the group of about 30 people who gathered for a Chamber luncheon at Green Hill Country Club last Thursday.
President Biden last week directed all staff at nursing homes to be vaccinated or face regular Covid testing in order for facilities to continue receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Members of the U.S. military also will be required to get vaccinated beginning in mid-September which is expected to coincide with final FDA approval of the vaccines. Some businesses also have started requiring vaccines for their employees.
While Harris is a proponent of Covid vaccines -- and has been vaccinated against the virus -- he said he opposes mask requirements in schools.
“I do think that making a child wear a mask over the long term is probably not a good thing for the development of that child,” he said.
Masks don’t protect the wearer, they protect others, Harris said. Requiring a child to wear a mask is “to benefit a grownup somewhere,” he said.
Harris’ views are contrary to those of the American Academy of Pediatrics which recommends everyone older than age 2 wear masks in schools, regardless of vaccination status.
“AAP recommends universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated,” the organization said on its website.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made the same recommendation.
Locally, Wicomico County Public Schools is requiring all staff, students and visitors to wear masks in indoor spaces.
During a question-and-answer session, local real estate agent Loudell Insley, who said she has been vaccinated, asked Harris how to encourage young adults and others to get the shot.
“I’m so frightened of being a carrier and passing it to someone else,” she said.
Harris told her he tells them to trust advice from their health care providers, but beyond that it may not be possible to convince some people that getting vaccinated helps keep the people around them safe, too.
“I’m not sure how to legislate altruism,” Harris said.
Harris also talked about the important relationship between the poultry industry and local farmers who grow corn to feed the chickens. Farms on the Delmarva Peninsula can’t compete with the enormous corn crop grown in the Midwest, so it’s important for the poultry industry to remain competitive with other countries.
During the Obama administration, there was talk about changing how growers are paid. Harris said if a grower has more and bigger chickens, they should be paid more.
“To some people, that doesn’t make sense and you should pay everyone the same,” he said.
The measure was stopped and then held in check during the Trump administration.
“That’s an example of what I do in Washington that helps this industry,” he said.
Harris also said he is “pretty confident” a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass both houses of Congress. It has already been approved in the Senate, but has not yet come up for a vote in the House of Representatives.
Another bill favored by some Democrats that includes social infrastructure probably won’t pass, he said.
Although he is in favor of paying for new infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, Harris said he worries about increasing the national debt and the ability to pay it back.
“All my life, I was raised if you borrow money you better have a way to pay it back,” he said. “There is no free ride.”
Harris also spoke later that evening at a Dorchester County Board of Education meeting amid constituents’ concerns about any possible attempts to implement critical race theory in the county’s school curriculum.