LA CROSSE, Wis. — Wisconsin physicians today blasted U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin for rejecting widespread vaccinations to protect health and save lives during a radio interview in which he spouted inaccurate medical misinformation that could endanger lives.
“Sen. Ron Johnson, who has no medical experience and continues to reject science, is flat out wrong about vaccinations, as he has been about a lot of other things during this pandemic, and we urge him to stop spreading dangerous misinformation that puts lives at risk and delays Wisconsin’s safe return to normal,” said Dr. Bob Freedland, MD, Wisconsin State Lead for the Committee to Protect Medicare and an ophthalmologist practicing in La Crosse. “As physicians, we want Wisconsinites to know that vaccinations can protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19. Vaccinations can protect your neighbor and their loved ones. Vaccinations are how Wisconsinites and Sen. Johnson can resume everyday activities safely. Sen. Johnson wants us to cross the lake in a leaky boat when the facts show that the more people get vaccinated, the fewer leaks we’ll have so we can safely get to shore.”
In an interview on Thursday, Johnson disparaged vaccinations and attempted to stoke suspicions and safety fears when he said COVID-19 vaccines are “not a fully approved vaccine.” Three COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for emergency use after the vaccines went through all safety steps. The vaccines were developed from existing technology, which helped speed their development. Data shows no patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines.
He also said that a limited number of people needed to get vaccinated: “The science tells us the vaccines are 95-percent effective, so if you have a vaccine quite honestly what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?” The vaccines’ 95-percent efficacy does not mean that 95 percent of the population would be protected. Instead, the efficacy rate means that vaccinated people have a 95-percent lower risk of getting COVID-19 compared with unvaccinated people. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are 95 percent efficacious at preventing infection.
Additionally, Johnson railed against so-called “vaccine passports” during his radio interview. The federal government has no plans to implement vaccine passports or similar requirements.
Health experts say vaccinations can ethically and effectively help the nation reach herd, or community, immunity after vaccinating 70-90 percent of the population — the concept Johnson misrepresented and misunderstood about vaccine efficacy. Only 30 percent of people in Wisconsin have been fully vaccinated.
“As physicians, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated to protect individual health, and to also protect our loved ones, our neighbors, their loved ones, and other people in the community so they don’t get sick and die,” said Dr. Ann Helms, a neurologist in Milwaukee. “Instead of spreading medically inaccurate misinformation that puts lives at risk, Sen. Johnson should listen to the science and work to strengthen safety measures. Sen. Johnson could be encouraging people to wear masks, avoid crowded places and get vaccinated against a disease that is highly contagious and 10 times deadlier than the flu. Yet here we are, fact-checking Sen. Johnson because his prolific output of medically inaccurate disinformation and misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines could put people’s lives at risk.”
Johnson, who has no medical experience, has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 as recently as March, even though the anti-malarial drug has failed to treat the disease in multiple medical studies. Johnson was infected with COVID-19 last year, yet has repeatedly refused to get vaccinated, erroneously saying his bout with the disease means he now has natural immunity. Early data suggests that vaccines may provide more protection compared with natural immunity: People who received the Moderna vaccine have more antibodies — a marker of immune responses — in their blood than those who had been sick with and recovered from COVID-19. New data further shows that vaccinated individuals may be less likely to spread COVID-19 because they have lower viral loads, making them less infectious to other people.
“I am concerned that Sen. Johnson’s statements and his personal choices are not as helpful as we would like for Wisconsinites who are genuinely seeking good information for choosing whether to get themselves vaccinated,” said Dr. Mark Neumann, a retired pediatric critical care doctor in La Crosse. “As physicians, we want Wisconsinites to know that the COVID-19 vaccines are proving to be safe and effective, with most people experiencing little or mild side effects. Severe reactions have been reported in no more than 11 people per 1 million people who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. That means that you’re about seven times more likely, as an average golfer, to make a hole in one at your next tee time than to have a serious vaccine reaction at your next shot. In that first exceedingly rare instance, you get bragging rights. In the second, even rarer event, your reaction will be treated. With increasing confidence we can spread the word that COVID-19 vaccines are quite effective for protecting people from the severe illness that leads to many more hospitalizations and more deaths in our communities.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, April 26, 2021
NOTE: The physicians above are speaking in their capacity as members of the Committee to Protect Medicare. They should be identified only as indicated in this news release.