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Lawmakers look to stop vaccine misinformation

DFL lawmakers, including two who are registered nurses, called for GOP colleagues to help stop the spread of misinformation about COVID vaccines.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Some COVID facts are undeniable.  

The Delta variant is surging. Your best protection is one of the vaccines that are now widely available for everyone in Minnesota ages 12 and over.  At least 98% of the people who are being hospitalized for the virus are part of the unvaccinated segment of the population.

DFL lawmakers are asking their GOP colleagues to emphasize those facts, rather than sowing seed of distrust and misinformation about vaccines and the virus itself.

"Minnesotans take care of each other, and right now, when our kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated, what taking care looks like is all of us doing our part to keep each other healthy and safe," Rep. Liz Boldon, who is also a registered nurse, told reporters at the capitol Thursday.

"This glut of misinformation is keeping that from happening. We are here today calling on our colleagues from across the aisle to join us in fulfilling our responsibility as leaders, which can quite literally save lives."

RELATED: Vax Facts: What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines

One common myth is that people who have had COVID already won't need a vaccine because they've developed antibodies. Dr. Madeleine Gagnon, a pediatrician at Gillette Children’s Specialty who joined lawmakers, said that's not true because of the way the virus has been mutating.

"If you had the Alpha variant last fall you can certainly contract the Delta variant now," Dr. Gagnon explained.

"The vaccine provokes your antibodies in a way that is more profound, more protective than your previous viral antibodies from the original Alpha variant."

Some vaccine skeptics have pointed to the "breakthrough" cases - vaccinated people who still catch COVID - as evidence that the vaccines don't work, or possibly don't live up to their promise.

But thus far, vaccinated people who catch the virus generally don't get the most severe complications. Early studies say a fairly large portion of "breakthrough" patients who do experience the worst symptoms have underlying health problems that put them more at risk.

"We came here to raise this issue and to call on our GOP colleagues across the state of Minnesota to end the spread of misinformation, and to use their powerful platforms to continue to encourage vaccination," said Sen. Erin Murphy, who is also a career registered nurse and nurse educator.

She took GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka to task for remarks he made on the floor of the Senate June 25 as he argued in favor of ending Gov. Walz's emergency powers.

"The science of kids under 12 being at risk from COVID clearly says they are not at risk. It is a very, very small percentage. The number of kids under age 12 that have died from COVID is very, very small," Sen. Gazelka said during a floor debate.

Murphy said Gazelka needs to recognize that children can be at risk.

"Senator Gazelka is an insurance agent. He speaks in terms of probabilities. I’m a nurse. I speak in terms of life and death. Children have been sickened. Children had died. There was a five-year-old in Georgia who died just this week with no underlying health conditions."

National Republicans such as Republican Congressman Steve Scalise are coming around to the idea of promoting the vaccine. He posted a photo of himself getting the shot.

"It is safe and effective. I took it and I wanted to show the picture to just encourage people," Scalise said in a post. 

But Dr. Scott Jensen, a former state senator from Chaska who is running for governor as a Republican, has sharply criticized the government's response to the pandemic and asserted that the death toll has been exaggerated. Dr. Jensen has consistently said the state and federal government overreacted to the threat and caused more harm than good.

Jensen has also asserted that natural antibodies from catching the virus are as good or better than the antibodies created by the vaccines. Jensen also joined a national lawsuit aimed at preventing the federal government from offering vaccine to youths ages 12 to 15.

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