Anti-vaccination rally questions research on COVID-19, touts bill allowing vaccine exemptions

By: - November 22, 2021 12:41 pm

Donna Herman said she lost her job as a nurse at Ascension Living HOPE, a senior living facility in Wichita, due to a requirement that all employees be vaccinated. She drove to the statehouse Monday to voice support for a bill providing moral, medical, religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccine mandates. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansans attending a rally supporting proposed legislation providing workers an out from federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates repeatedly denied vaccine efficacy research and said any mandate would threaten their way of life.

Many in attendance complained they had been personally impacted by vaccine requirements or would be affected by the mandates, including Donna Herman. She said she lost her job as a nurse at Ascension Living HOPE, a senior living facility in Wichita, because of a vaccination requirement for all employees.

Ascension via Christi set a deadline of Friday, Nov. 12, for employees to receive both the COVID-19 and the influenza vaccine to ensure the safety and peace of mind of those they are treating. Employees who did get vaccinated have been suspended pending compliance.

Rallygoers joined in prayer, led by Dave DePue, center, in hopes that the bill would pass the Legislature without significant changes. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Herman, who refused both the flu and COVID-19 vaccine, drove from Wichita to represent herself and other employees who were laid off or quit.

“This isn’t right. We need to stand up and be heard because people need to have the right to make their own informed choice whether they want to take this or not,” Herman said. “I feel like we’re the majority but now we are no longer silent.”

As legislators gaveled in for a special session, more than 50 people gathered in the statehouse rotunda to protest vaccine mandates and pray for legislation to be considered beginning Monday. The House will consider a bill including the vaccine opt-out and penalties for employers who do not comply, with the Senate expected to follow suit on a similar bill that also provides unemployment benefits for individuals who lose their jobs because of vaccine mandates.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have endorsed the preliminary vaccines and booster shots for all adults. The U.S Food and Drug Administration has approved vaccinations for everyone age 5 and up, as well as booster shots of the Moderna and Pfizer immunizations.

The decision was based on data indicating immune responses of children 5 through 11 years of age were comparable to those individuals 16- to 25-years-old. The FDA determined the vaccine was safe after a study of 3,100 children that showed no serious side effects.

Karen Rush, a rally attendee, brushed aside research, instead suggesting the vaccine lacked proper vetting and was still a major unknown.

Karen Rush said she felt threatened by vaccine mandates and that the vaccine was still an unknown, despite research showing it is safe and effective. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

“They haven’t even taken the necessary avenues of making this vaccine what it’s supposed to be — something that’s good for us to stop something bad. In so many cases that is absolutely not what’s happening,” Rush said. “My job, my livelihood, my standard of living, everything in my life is threatened at this point.”

More than 196 million, or 59%, of the country’s population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 55.6% of Kansans have received one dose of the vaccine and 48.6% of the population have completed the vaccination series.

Rallygoers huddled together to pray before heading up to the Senate and House galleries to watch the debate. Once seated, they repeatedly interrupted the debate on the House floor by jeering, booing or laughing at those who opposed the bill.

House Speaker Run Ryckman admonished the crowd on both occasions for their outbursts. The anti-vaccination crowd then turned to silent commentary, raising one or both hands when opposed to what was said by legislators.

Dave DePue, an influential pastor who has led prayer groups at the capitol and volunteered as statehouse chaplain for 20 years, led the rallygoers in praying that political pressures do not alter the intentions of the proposed legislation.

“The committee heard from 300 people that came and testified so they crafted a bill that meets a middle of the road situation, but we have some people who would like more, and some don’t even want the bill to pass,” DePue said.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.

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