Texas GOP state senator urged use of unproven hydroxychloroquine treatment for COVID-19. Now he’s spreading doubt about vaccines.

State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, on the Senate floor on May 6, 2019.
State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, on the Senate floor on May 6, 2019.

State Sen. Bob Hall is not a doctor.

The Edgewood Republican graduated from The Citadel with a degree in electrical engineering and, after a successful career in the U.S. Air Force, started an aerospace and defense consulting business.

But a lack of medical training hasn’t stopped Hall from promoting misleading — and at times outright false — information about the coronavirus pandemic. Early in the pandemic, he advocated for treating COVID-19 patients with a drug used to treat malaria, even though there was little evidence it worked. Now, he’s promoting skepticism about the coronavirus vaccines, despite widespread scientific consensus that they greatly reduce the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

Earlier this month, a Texas Senate committee considered a proposal from Hall that would ban any entity — public or private — from requiring their employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine and would prohibit “discrimination” based on a person’s vaccination status.

“The mere fact that a person has not received a specific vaccine does not make them a threat to others’ health and safety,” he said. “In contrast, vaccines they have elected not to have may very well be a threat to their own health and safety.”

Overwhelming evidence suggests the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The federal government sets strict safety standards for vaccines and each of the three authorized versions have been tested on tens of thousands of people. In clinical trials, the Pfizer vaccine proved 95% effective against the virus and was near perfect at preventing serious illness or death. Mild side effects from the shot are common, but severe adverse reactions are extremely rare, studies show.

Hall framed his measure as a protection of personal liberties. Businesses, he argued, should not have the power to force employees to undergo an “irreversible medical procedure.” But in a period of sagging vaccination rates — particularly among staunch conservatives like Hall — the senator and his invited guests used their platform to promulgate debunked anti-vaccine conspiracies and push claims that have largely been eschewed by the medical community.

Hall is among the most conservative members of a Texas Senate known for its willingness to embrace right-wing issues. His wing of the party has proven a particular challenge for public health leaders pushing to get people in the state vaccinated.