U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a skeptic of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, announced Friday he plans to hold a media event Monday featuring a former Green Bay Packers player and families who will discuss adverse reactions they or their family members experienced after receiving a coronavirus vaccine.
The event will feature eight people, including former Packers offensive lineman Ken Ruettgers, whose wife, Sheryl, experienced a severe neurological reaction after receiving her first dose.
The medical community and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to stand by the effectiveness and safety of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for the market, which they underscore is the best way for people to protect themselves against severe disease or death.
During Monday’s event, Johnson, R-Oshkosh, plans to speak with families from across the country who have experienced adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines and “how the medical community has repeatedly ignored their concerns.”
He also plans to “speak to his advocacy for early treatment and the importance of American’s health care freedom.”
Other people planning to speak at the event have reportedly suffered from pain, heart palpitations, muscle weakness and paralysis. It isn’t clear whether such side effects are a direct result of the vaccine.
Medical experts acknowledge serious side effects are rare, but do occur. For example, rare blood clots related to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine have occurred in about 7 in 1 million women ages 18 to 49, and the rate in men is even lower.
So far, about 1,200 cases of heart inflammation have been reported after administration of about 300 million doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, not all of them have been verified.
Over 317 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.S. The vaccines were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials, have been approved through the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization and are subject to ongoing safety monitoring.
Nearly all deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. are now among unvaccinated people. An Associated Press report found only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people. That translates to about 0.8%, or five deaths per day on average.
Dr. Bob Freedland, an ophthalmologist in La Crosse and the Wisconsin state lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care, called on Johnson to cancel the event.
“Johnson claims, clearly in bad faith, to just be sharing ‘the truth’ about vaccines, but the truth is that they’re safe, and they’re the best way for Wisconsinites to protect themselves and their loved ones from the deadly COVID-19 disease,” Freedland said in a statement.
“As our U.S. senator, Johnson has an obligation to do what’s right for the health of our state and country — and that’s promoting the vaccines. If he can’t stop spreading misinformation and undermining the best tool we have to protect against COVID-19 and dangerous variants, Sen. Johnson needs to get out of the way and let the rest of us do our jobs.”
Both Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, tweeted support for vaccines Friday. Evers said Johnson was being “reckless and irresponsible.”
Despite evidence the vaccines are safe and effective, Johnson has repeatedly questioned their safety, and has declined to encourage people to get inoculated. Still, he has claimed to be a “big supporter” of the federal program launched by the Trump administration to develop and produce the vaccines.
Earlier this year, Johnson said he didn’t plan to get the vaccine because he already had the virus.
Earlier this month, YouTube suspended Johnson from uploading videos for violating its medical misinformation policies during a Milwaukee Press Club interview. Johnson had criticized the Trump and Biden administrations for “not only ignoring but working against robust research (on) the use of cheap, generic drugs to be repurposed for early treatment of COVID.”
Johnson has yet to announce whether he will seek a third term in 2022.
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