MILWAUKEE — Leaders across the Milwaukee community blasted Sen. Ron Johnson's press conference Monday featuring people who said they had adverse reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine and have been ignored by medical professionals.
The medical community overwhelmingly has stressed the approved vaccines are safe and effective, and complications are extremely rare.
Leaders from Milwaukee's School Board of Directors, Milwaukee Common Council, and the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors released a statement condemning the senator's press conference and calling on him to cancel it.
"When Senator Johnson comes and talks about problems with the vaccination, it does nothing more than to discourage people, and that is irresponsible. It’s reckless and I wish he would stop," said Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee School Board of Directors.
Peterson reiterated Johnson's recent weeklong suspension from Youtube for violating the platform's medical misinformation policies, and said he believes Johnson's "disinformation campaign" will discourage vaccinations as schools work to bring staff and students back next fall.
"We want them [schools] to be as safe as possible. The best way for that to happen is to increase vaccinations in this community," Peterson said.
Dr. Jeff Pothof, an emergency medicine physician at UW Health, said it is important to recognize the individuals at the press conference are going through something difficult, but there is more to consider.
"I think the hard thing is, the question that cannot be answered at the news conference and certainly isn't answered yet, is whether or not vaccines [are] actually causing those symptoms," Dr. Pothof said.
Pothof added people should understand the adverse events related to the vaccine are among a couple per million people, and that the risk of death and long-haul issues from COVID-19 are much greater.
"Not that we shouldn’t study these vaccines, not that we shouldn’t try to understand what’s happening to people, but the real danger right now is somehow convincing or telling people or giving them the impression that the vaccines are so unsafe, that they should maybe opt out when the reality for almost all Americans getting a vaccine is by far your safest bet against this pandemic," Dr. Pothof said.
In a statement, Milwaukee's Health Commissioner responded to Sen. Johnson's actions, saying in part:
"We should question the motives of an individual who refuses to be vaccinated hosting a press conference attempting to debunk the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. We urge Milwaukeeans to talk to people they love and trust, listen to the experts and science, discuss questions and concerns with licensed medical or health professionals, and continue to get vaccinated to save lives in our community."
The friction between Johnson's visit and public and health leaders comes as the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads, and doctors say there is concern about what impact that will have on unvaccinated people.
The latest Wisconsin Department of Health Services data showed 50 percent of residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Full statement from Kirsten Johnson:
"Senator Ron Johnson, who publicly confirmed he is unvaccinated, has used his platform today to raise misleading concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. The scientific facts about the COVID-19 vaccine remain: it is safe, it is effective, and complications are extremely rare. More importantly, it saves lives. The burden of disease, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19 are the lowest the City of Milwaukee has experienced since the start of this pandemic. This is due in part to the hundreds of thousands of Milwaukeeans who have been vaccinated. Without vaccine, our COVID-19 cases would be substantially higher. As leaders and health professionals, we should question the motives of an individual who refuses to be vaccinated hosting a press conference attempting to debunk the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. We urge Milwaukeeans to talk to people they love and trust, listen to the experts and science, discuss questions and concerns with licensed medical or health professionals, and continue to get vaccinated to save lives in our community."
Statement from leaders with the Milwaukee School Board of Directors, Common Council and County Board of Supervisors: