GOPs advance bill to count prior COVID infection as immunity

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Right now, vaccine mandates give employees no choice but to comply. But a controversial bill making its way through the state Legislature would open that up.

The bill's authors say anyone who's had a positive Covid test should be able to take that to their employer as proof of immunity. But opponents argue past infection isn't as good as the vaccine, and to allow this would put others at risk.

Does a past Covid infection provide protection moving forward? The answer depends who you ask. Republican lawmakers looking to address labor shortages worsened by Covid-19 say it does.

"My constituents do not want a vaccine mandate, that doesn’t mean they are not vaccinated. They don’t want the government telling them that they have to put an experimental drug in my system," said Wisconsin State Senator Mary Felzkowski (R - Irma).

A Republican-sponsored bill would legitimize immunity from a prior infection. People could either get vaccinated or show documentation from a health care provider of a positive test. 

Opponents argue it could discourage people from getting vaccinated.

"We are, on the flip side, making sure vaccinations and testing is out there as often as possible," said Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D -West Point).

As omicron surges, hospitals fill up and testing sites overflow, the Wisconsin Medical Society and a number of health care professionals strongly oppose the immunity bill.

"Unfortunately, past infection is not on par with the immunity you get from vaccination," said Ajay Sethi, associate professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ajay Sethi says a third of people who had Covid did not develop any antibodies whatsoever.

"Because that infection might be so mild, may be asymptomatic, and the immune system never really kicks in. Even if Covid required you to be hospitalized, there's a five-and-a-half times greater risk you'll get re-infected than if you were vaccinated and never had Covid before," said Sethi.

This is one of several Covid bills Republicans have proposed as they seek to help employers struggling to keep people on their payroll. 

Similar bills passed in Florida and Arkansas last year. 

If the bill makes it to his desk, it's expected that Governor Evers would veto it. 

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