Recommendations to outlaw mask and vaccine mandates left a large rift in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, with three members declining to sign off on the committee’s final interim report.

The Senate committee report, which was posted last week, was signed by six of the nine members of the Senate committee, including two doctors: Dawn Buckingham and Donna Campbell.

Sens. Beverly Powell, D-Fort Worth; Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Borris Miles, D-Houston, declined to sign the report. Sen. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, signed the report but added his own letter of protest. Those who refused to sign the report were stopped from incorporating their own objections into the report.

What You Need To Know

  • A Senate interim report — which will guide future legislation — recommends abolishing mask, COVID-19 vaccine mandates

  • Each Senate committee produces an interim report on charges directed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

  • The Senate Health & Human Services Committee has recommended ending mandates because it's difficult to prove their efficacy

  • Four members — two of whom will not return to the Senate — said such recommendations do not follow the advice of medical and scientific professionals

The mandatory interim report, which covers a variety of public health issues, is intended to guide the upper chamber’s legislation during the 88th session. Under a subhead regarding the state’s response to the pandemic, the report was highly critical of the federal government’s guidance on COVID-19, including the prohibition of untested treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin; the ongoing push for mass vaccination against COVID-19; and what the committee saw as the CDC’s attempts to downplay deaths reported after the COVID-19 vaccine, even though those deaths were not caused by the vaccine.

“As was the case of early lockdown efforts, the decision to shut down the nation and the economy led to more harm than good,” according to the interim report. “The economic and physical toll of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) are difficult to overlook, and the full reasoning behind some NPIs raises additional questions as to their real intention.”

In fact, the choice to restrict, or delay, elective medical procedures will probably lead to future strain on the state’s health care system, a byproduct of the pandemic not being tracked, according to the report. It recommended a grant be created to research such indirect impacts on the state’s health care system.

Recommendations of the Senate committee also included prohibiting future mask mandates; engaging a committee to address “medical censorship;” expanding statutory authority for licensed physicians to prescribe off-label uses for medications; and prohibiting any and all COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Powell, in a letter addressed to Chair Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, dated Dec. 8, wrote the recommendations in the pandemic section that conflicted with the advice and testimony of the medical and scientific professionals who addressed the Health & Human Services Committee.

The Texas Hospital Association called most COVID-19 deaths preventable once the vaccine was widely available, Powell noted in her letter. And the Texas Medical Association warned that a blanket prohibition of COVID-19 vaccine mandates across all industries and schools placed everyone at risk, she added.

“None of this is conjecture; these are facts,” Powell wrote. “Physicians and scientists, including those who work for the State of Texas — upon whose expertise we rely on for other health matters — risked their careers and livelihoods in representing scientific fact in the face of pseudo-science and an often threatening, unfounded social media onslaught.”

Powell, whose North Texas district was redrawn during redistricting, did not run for re-election. Seliger, who has broken with Republicans on issues such as gun control after the mass shooting in Uvalde, declined to file for another term.

The interim report, which is heavily footnoted with testimony presented to the committee, also quotes liberally from Dr. Robert Malone. Malone, who had a high profile on far-right media during the pandemic, did not testify to the committee and appears to have overstated his credentials as a co-creator of the mRNA vaccine, according to reporting by the New York Times.

Blanco, whose letter was included in the report, objected to ending mask mandates, saying scientific review of data shows the strategy has a direct relationship to limiting the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. He asked that the recommendation be struck from the report.

Miles posted his own letter to Kolkhorst and a statement on the report’s recommendations, specifically noting he supported most of the report’s recommendations, with the exception of the pandemic section, saying the recommendations on ending masking and vaccine mandates were irresponsible.

“More than 300 million doses of the Pfizer and 200 million doses of the Moderna vaccines have been administered with tremendous amounts of data showing their safety and effectiveness,” Miles said. “I urge my colleagues to stop pandering to the anti-vaccination conspiracy theories and political platforms that have caused the deaths of many people in our state, this country and the world.”