CONWAY, S.C – People are uprooting their lives to go to cities with fewer COVID-19 laws and rules surrounding vaccinations, and South Carolina is a popular destination.
Last week, when Connecticut became the sixth state to remove religious exemptions for immunizations at schools, Rebekah Schneider was sad for her home state but happy she acted early.
In December, Schneider moved her whole family out of the state she lived in for about 38 years in hopes of having more freedom down south. She said even late last year she felt it was only a matter of time until Connecticut passed a law she feels restricts her freedom of choice.
“I was very concerned about the medical and religious freedoms we felt were being stripped from families,” Schneider said. “All of those families who are practicing their religious and spiritual beliefs that is now stripped from them. And that should scare everyone.”
She said since moving to Conway, South Carolina, she has felt more accepted for her beliefs.
Despite being cautioned by her friends and people she is connected with on social media to not speak to a reporter about her decision, Schneider felt it was important to explain to her views. In particular, the opinion that vaccination should be a choice and that people shouldn’t be quick to label others “anti-vaxxers.”
“If you’ve done your research and you feel a certain vaccination will help you and your child I absolutely get it, but if someone feels that way in particular for religious reasons their rights aren’t less, they matter too,” she said.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said there is a risk vaccinated people could get sick if others in their community decide not to get the shot.
In a statement the agency said getting vaccinated helps protect people who are unable to get the vaccine due to health reasons and can decrease the chances of virus mutations.
“The more unvaccinated people out in our communities, the more opportunity there is for these contagious variants to spread and for new mutations to arise. Right now, vaccines available in the United States are effective in preventing serious disease from COVID-19, but that might not always be true if the virus mutates more,” DHEC wrote.
In an interview with WIS, DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer said he views it as one of his agency’s responsibility to inform people about the vaccine and answer any questions they may have.
Schneider says that’s a good thing because in Connecticut she felt she was forced to find the answers about the vaccines herself.
“I have a binder of over 2000 pages of research I’ve done on my own time, I’m not a doctor, science is ever-changing, and this is something we are all still new to,” she said.
Schneider says she might not be the only one to make this move.
Her friend Sylvia, who asked that her last name not be included for fear of online harassment, is still in Connecticut but has been keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 response in South Carolina.
“Just being in places that align more with our views, things we value, and places that really do leave it up to freedom and choices, and we feel like up here we are being pigeonholed sometimes or our backs are against the wall with certain things we decide for our families [in Connecticut],” she said.
In a tweet about the bill, the Governor of Connecticut said he is proud to have signed a bill that protects children. According to the Associated Press, he also told reporters he did a lot of his own research before signing the bill into law.
Sylvia said it is “very common” for her friends in Connecticut to discuss moving to South Carolina where religious exceptions for vaccinations are still in place. She was impressed when Governor McMaster told reporters he doesn’t want children to be forced to wear masks in schools.
“I think that was a big thumbs up for him,” Sylvia said.
Schneider says Sylvia and others should really consider the move because it has been a positive experience for her.
“People are a lot nicer here,” she said.