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Nurse Challenges Lawmaker Who Wanted To Drop Vaccine Requirements

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The state holds primary elections next week. One Republican primary race could become a tiny referendum on vaccines.

These are the first elections since the coronavirus pandemic hit the state.

Lee Qualm has been the Republican majority leader in the South Dakota House for four years.

Term limits prevent him from running for his seat again - so he’s on the ballot for the Senate.

But Qualm faces a challenger who has raised and spent more money in this primary election cycle.

This past legislative session Qualm introduced a bill to remove immunization requirements for children entering public school. It didn’t pass.

“It’s unfairly labeled as a vaccination bill. It’s more about health freedom and the ability—you know, it’s your body and you should be able to choose what you do with it,” Qualm says. “It’s interesting. It’s interesting. I don’t think our ads are centered—we did one main ad telling what the bill was about because there was a lot of misinformation out there. Then, we just been talking about a lot of the other things I’ve done in my legislative career.”

“Yes, I would say that was part of the door opening,” that’s Erin Tobin, Qualm's challenger.

The nurse practitioner says the Qualm’s bill didn’t serve the medically vulnerable populations of South Dakota well and could have resulted in unnecessary disease.

“It’s so important to reach out to experts in the field,” Tobin says. “And I do this every day at work. Different healthcare systems, different healthcare providers, because we need to have all of the information before we go and make big decisions that effect—directly effect—the health and wellness and disease levels in the people in our communities and in the vulnerable populations.”

Tobin says that’s why she’s qualified to serve in Pierre, especially during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both candidates say they’re trying to share their campaign message as they can during the pandemic.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.