SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In her first news conference during the 2022 Legislative session, Gov. Kristi Noem announced her plans to bring forward a bill to allow for religious, medical and natural immunity exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Noem said she believes COVID-19 vaccination should be a choice and she doesn’t want to see people divided into two different classes – those vaccinated and those unvaccinated.
“This bill will specifically guarantee people in South Dakota the ability to declare a medical exemption based on a signature from a doctor saying that’s the appropriate action to be taking,” Noem told reporters Thursday. “As well as a religious exemption and then the immunity will be granted as well based on a positive 6-month antibody test.”
Noem said she’ll introduce the bill and see the discussion go from there.
When asked specifically about what natural immunity exemption, Noem said natural immunity is “debatable.”
“Consistently what we’ve seen come out from the researchers across the world is that you can count on natural immunity for around six months,” Noem said. “So if you measure your antibodies every six months, that would be the qualifier we’d use in this bill that we think has the most substance behind it in science, research and data.”
Noem said she doesn’t know if she has natural immunity and she doesn’t believe she’s had COVID-19.
She emphasized her bills differ from other Republican lawmakers’ calls for laws forcing businesses not to enact vaccine mandates.
Sanford Health’s chief physician Dr. Jeremy Cauwels told KELOLAND News Tuesday how important a COVID-19 booster shot is regardless of prior COVID-19 infection.
“We can say regardless of whether or not you’ve had a previous COVID diagnosis that getting the booster gives you a hybrid form of immunity that comes from both natural immunity and the vaccine, and that that kind of protection is probably the best protection that you can get against future illness,” Cauwels said.
On Thursday, Cauwels emphasized to KELOLAND News the medical science isn’t known for sure what antibody level is protective for preventing people from getting COVID-19.
“We will absolutely let the lawmakers continue to make laws, that’s what their job is and that’s what they are here to do,” Cauwels said. “Our job is just to say there are areas of medical uncertainty and this is one of them currently. We don’t know what that number is that says you’re protected and you’re not.”
Cauwels said a lot of people already believe that if they’ve previously had COVID-19 they can’t get it again.
“We’ve already shown and already seen that people can get COVID more than once,” Cauwels said. “For us, it’s just about doing everything we can to keep people as safe as possible.”