By Nicole Girten DAILY MONTANAN
A bill to ban donors who have received the COVID-19 vaccination from giving blood will “decimate” blood supply in Montana and leave patients at risk of even death, said opponents of House Bill 645.
“Montana’s blood supply could be cut by up to 80%, leading to adverse patient outcomes including unnecessary and unconscionable death,” said senior vice president of blood collection nonprofit Vitalant, Cliff Numark.
Numark said most blood banks are barely meeting the needs of patients today, and with an 80% reduction in blood supply, procedures for accident victims, pregnancy complications and more mundane blood transfusions would not be possible.
House Bill 645 would ban individuals who received the COVID-19 vaccine from donating blood, making it a misdemeanor with a $500 fine to donate or accept blood from vaccinated donors. The bill would also ban people who have had a diagnosis of “Long COVID,” medically defined as “postacute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 due to chronic 27 SARS-CoV-2 viral infection.”
In addition to creating a severe shortage of blood in the state, opponents said there’s no way to test blood for both Long COVID or the vaccines.
However, proponents said the bill, a continuation of anti-vaccine legislation that passed last session, was about medical autonomy and the right to receive blood from donors had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We hear these two words ‘safe and effective’ a million plus times. Does that make them true?” said bill sponsor Rep. Greg Kmetz, R- Miles City.
Emails exchanged during the drafting process show Kmetz included language from anti-vaccine legislation passed last session, House Bill 702, which outlawed discrimination based on vaccination status. A portion of that bill was struck down as unconstitutional in December.
Proponents included Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, vice-chairwoman of the House Human Services Committee, which heard the bill on Friday. She repeated claims made in the film “Died Suddenly” that were debunked prior to its release. She said the vaccine caused issues with blood flow, citing her brother, a mortician.
The Food and Drug Administration said that respiratory viruses aren’t generally transmitted by blood transfusion and there have been no reported cases of transfusion-transmitted COVID-19.
Other proponents said that blood recipients should not have to worry about adverse effects in an emergency situation.
“I’m one of many who believe in the God given right of medical freedom, which is having access to genetically unmodified blood during a time of need,” said Jo Vilhauer from Miles City. “This is a vital part of health autonomy.”
Dr. Michael Busch, director of the Vitalant Research Institute, which monitors antibody levels in U.S. blood supply samples, told Kaiser Health News more than 90% of current donors have either been infected with COVID or vaccinated against it.
Opponents slightly outnumbered proponents and included the Montana Nurses Association, the Montana Hospital Association, the Montana Medical Association, the the Montana Primary Care Association and others.
Chief Medical Officer for the American Red Cross in the Western U.S. Dr. Walter Kelley said this bill would “decimate” blood supply in Montana as 80% of the state has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
“This bill will put patients’ lives in jeopardy, and this bill needs to be removed,” Kelley said.
Numark, senior vice president of a blood collection nonprofit, said there’s no way to test for the components outlined in the bill, including “gene-altering proteins, nanoparticles, high-count spike proteins from long COVID-19, and other DNA chemotherapies, among other COVID-19 related restrictions.
“There’s no test to do that, so we would not be able to comply to determine whether people have received it or not,” he said.
In response to committee questioning, Numark said it would be possible to ask donors if they had received the COVID-19 vaccine as part of an intake form, but that the criminal liability attached to the bill adds complications.
Rep. Jodee Etchart, R-Billings, who requested the bill, asked sponsor Kmetz if he had considered establishing a system of two banks of blood, one vaccinated and one unvaccinated. Etchart had worked with Kmetz to bring forward legislation about COVID and the blood supply.
Kmetz said he’s spoken with constituents who said they didn’t want “vaccinated blood making a patient’s health situation even worse.”
“We are not going to consider that,” Kmetz said.
During the drafting process, Kmetz asked a bill drafter if it would be possible to allow for separating blood supplies to make the bill “less contentious.” The drafter said she could include that language but she was not familiar with the intricacies of the process and wouldn’t be able to answer if it was possible.
Etchart asked in an email when the bill was being drafted whether anyone would qualify to donate blood with the language that was in the bill at the time. She said nearly the entire population has either knowingly had COVID-19 or been vaccinated.
“The way it appears, no one will qualify, and this bill will go down so fast it isn’t even worth bringing,” Etchart said.
Pharmacist Colleen Baker with Morgan Creek Compounding Pharmacy, suggested language to better define long-haul COVID-19.
Former Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, was integral to the drafting process and characterized the need for the legislation as critical.
“An immediate effective date would fit this building emergency,” he said in a January email.
The committee did not immediately take action on the bill.