Mercy Hospital is requiring its employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine. A demonstration protesting the move was filled with vaccine misinformation, QAnon, and a lot of cars honking in support.
Earlier this month, Mercy announced that all in their workforce would need to be vaccinated by Sept. 30 or face possible termination.
In response, about 50 people from the Facebook group “417 Freedom Fighters” gathered outside the hospital Thursday afternoon — waving flags and signs to protest the vaccine requirement and falsely claiming that the COVID-19 vaccine has caused tens of thousands of deaths.
“This should not be mandated; this should not be mandated. The program should be stopped because it’s killing people,” said a man named Robert who declined to give his last name and identified himself as an organizer of the event.
As evidence for this claim, Robert cited the Vaccine Adverse Reporting System (VAERS), which is a government database used to track “unusual or unexpected patterns of adverse events” after one is vaccinated.
But the database does not track death specifically attributable to the COVID-19 vaccine. Instead, it tracks “all serious adverse events following vaccination against COVID-19 — regardless of whether the vaccines are to blame.”
Therefore, any death that occurs after one is vaccinated could be counted in the VAERS system. According to VAERS’ website, the database is “not designed to determine if a vaccine caused a health problem.”
Yet, anti-vaccine groups have used it for decades to spread misinformation.
By improperly using VAERS data, Robert estimated that between 6,000 to 45,000 people have died from the COVID-19 vaccine. Another used VAERS to claim 11,140 vaccinated people have died in the past two weeks.
Patricia Tursi said the number of deaths could be much higher.
“They need to stop the vaccination because 50,000 people are already dead. But VAERS is actually only 1 percent of the actual number. So, add two zeros. That’s 5 million. Five million dead. And that’s just in the United States,” she said.
Asked about Springfield Councilwoman Angela Romine, who earlier this week used her place on the city council to spread vaccine misinformation, Tursi said Romine was “one of the most courageous people in Springfield.”
Tursi added that she was “grateful” Romine spoke favorably about hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, which Romine claimed to have used to treat her own COVID infection in an interview with the News-Leader.
Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to treat autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Ivermectin is a drug primarily used on livestock to remove parasites.
Neither is approved to treat COVID-19 and their use could worsen COVID-19 symptoms.
“We have seen (COVID-19) patients who were prescribed ivermectin (or hydroxychloroquine) by primary care providers and ended up being admitted to our hospital and ICU,” Drew Zimmer, an infectious diseases pharmacist with CoxHealth, wrote in an email to the News-Leader last week.
Tursi said the medical establishment is preventing doctors from prescribing the drugs.
“The FDA said no to them because — you know why? They don’t want a cure,” she said. “There’s no need to die from this. But if you go to the hospital, you don’t get treatment even though hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin will cure the COVID.”
One woman waving an American flag while yelling slogans into a bullhorn said she “didn’t know” if the vaccine was causing deaths, but she “wouldn’t want to take the chance.”
“I shouldn’t be made to get this vaccine. People who work (at Mercy) shouldn’t be made to have to choose between their job or to get vaccinated,” she said.
The woman, who declined to give her name, added that she knew COVID is not “something to just dismiss as a nothing thing.”
“I’ve had it. And I would say it was rough. I had it in February when we had all the snow on the ground, and it was difficult to get out of the house, and there was one night, I was really rather frightened I might not make it.”
However, that did not change her mind about the vaccine.
“I got over it. I have no long-term adverse effects from that experience, but I do have antibodies. I do have antibodies. So, I can’t get it again, I don’t need the vaccine.”
In fact, while you are less likely to catch the disease a second time, it is possible. It is also unknown how long antibodies from a COVID infection might last.
While waving a Bible to honking cars passing by the protest, Lane Grefe told the News-Leader he was unconcerned by the idea of catching COVID-19.
“People are pushing to get the vax so hard but I don’t understand when it has a 96 percent chance you won’t die and you’ll survive. If you don’t have preexisting conditions, you’re gonna live,” he said.
It is true that only one to two percent of people who contract COVID die, but that is a high number compared to other diseases. For example, that death rate is 10 times higher than the seasonal flu.
Grefe said he would never “stick my kid with that death vac.”
“People call us stupid, we’re uneducated, we’re hesitant. (Correct.) None of us here are hesitant,” he shouted to cheering protesters. “Because we’ve all done the math enough to know there’s been 11,140 deaths in the past two weeks. People are dying from (the vaccine) more so than the COVID itself.”
Contrary to this claim, a Yale study published earlier this month found that the COVID vaccine has saved 279,000 lives and prevented 1.25 million hospitalizations.
Later, Grefe could be heard shouting to his fellow protesters, “Where we go one, we go all,” which is a common catchphrase used by QAnon adherents.
Asked about his use of the phrase, Grefe admitted he was a believer in the conspiracy.
QAnon, which the FBI has called a domestic terror threat, is a wide-ranging and discredited conspiracy theory alleging there is a satanic cabal of pedophiles who control government and culture across the globe.
The cult is led by “Q” — a person or persons claiming to have high-level security clearance in the U.S. government who has been posting about this “deep state” cabal on internet message boards since 2017.
Grefe said he’s followed QAnon since 2017 after being introduced to one of its followers on a “Christian TV show.”
“I stumbled onto Q in 2017. And now there is a lot of negativity about it,” he said. “But it’s just a true thing, man. It’s about America. I believe Q asked Trump to run and that’s why Trump was president.”
Grefe said he was especially concerned by the “satanic cult” he believes is trafficking children and drinking their “adrenochrome.”
Adrenochrome is a chemical compound created by the oxidation of adrenaline. It is not approved for medical use by the FDA, but it is used to treat blood clots in some other countries.
Yet QAnon adherents believe adrenochrome is a psychedelic drug harvested from the pituitary glands of children.
That myth originates from the 1998 film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in which a character mentions the drug’s supposed psychedelic effect. The movie’s director later said the hallucinatory effect of the drug was made up for the film.
The conspiracy also harks back to the centuries-old anti-Semitic conspiracy of blood libel in which Jews were falsely accused of drinking the blood of Christian children.
Nevertheless, Grefe was convinced.
“What this all really boils down to in the nitty gritty is adrenochrome human trafficking, which is the largest industry in the world. This is a scientific fact,” he said. “If you drink blood that is heavily charged with the pituitary gland, it releases adrenochrome. It’s all about pedophilia. They’re all into it. This is about Satanism. This is about torturing our kids and drinking their freakin’ blood, man. That’s what it’s about.”
Bragging about his connections to the broader QAnon movement, Grefe claimed to be personal friends with Jake Chansley, the so-called “Q Shaman” who became the face of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Grefe also said his cousin was there that day and is one of four Springfield men who have been arrested for their participation in the attempted coup.
“He’s facing felonies right now. He’s been on the news. I’m not gonna give up his name but I’ll tell you what… there was a fourth seat and I was supposed to be there. However, I was part of a local militia group, which is my constitutional right. We were worried about riots going on downtown Springfield, so I gave up my seat to go to the Capitol.”
Asked if he would have gone into the Capitol and participated in the riot if he had been there that day, Grefe said, “Oh, yeah — absolutely.”
Grefe said he was a member of a local chapter of the Three-Percenter militia, a “far-right, anti-government extremist group” that opposes the authority of the federal government and aims to overthrow it, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Many members of the group and similar militias have been charged for their participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Asked if Grefe and his militia had any plans of violence directed against the federal government, he said the Three-Percenters were “prepared” for that.
“We’ve sworn to take an oath — just like we did in 1776. It looks like we will have to defend our freedoms again if we have to.”