Protests at a planned two-week COVID-19 drive-thru vaccination clinic at Bohemia Park have led to the clinic shutting down indefinitely, according to Cottage Grove city staff.
The City of Cottage Grove had been working with Lane County Public Health, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the operation of the clinic.
Initially, plans were to conduct vaccination clinics in the Bohemia Park parking lot daily from Jan. 22 through Feb. 4.
As of Monday (Jan. 24), the clinic had shut down early and there were no set plans to relocate.
Though he did not cite specific reasons, an organizer with OHA indicated the presence of the protesters influenced the decision to shut down.
In its two days of operation over the weekend, the clinic conducted 96 vaccinations the first day and 15 the second. The organizer, who did not share his name, attributed the drop in vaccinations to the protesters’ presence, which ultimately impacted the decision shut down the clinic.
City Manager Richard Meyers was more directly critical of the protestors’ presence at the entrance of the parking lot.
“It’s appalling that they think that they have a right to intimidate others and to force their pressures or ideas on others,” he said. “Other people interfering with someone else exercising their rights is not patriotic and is not the right thing to do. They have every right to come and get their vaccinations, without intimidation, without inhibitions, without oppression or anything else along that line.”
Reportedly, around 30 protesters had appeared on Saturday, the clinic’s first day, but Monday morning saw a turnout of just under 20.
Many of the protesters interviewed by The Sentinel on Monday said they supported the freedom of people to choose, but felt a duty to raise awareness about the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccinations, several protesters citing a problem of “informed consent”.
While leading national health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have repeatedly touted the vaccines as “safe and effective”, demonstrators reject this narrative and contend that adverse effects are much higher than claimed.
They also took particular issue with parents who use the mainstream health authority information in deciding to vaccinate their children.
“We just want the truth,” said a protester who would not share their name.
Another sticking point for those demonstrating the vaccine clinic was the use of public funds to run the operation when plenty of local pharmacies have made the vaccine available, some suggesting that the clinic may even draw potential customers away from those pharmacies.
The reference to public funds seemed to be in regard to the use of FEMA and OHA to run the operation as there was no cost to the city for the clinic.
“We got an inquiry from Lane County Public Health to do a clinic,” explained Meyers. “They were looking for a location for possible drive-thru clinics and they asked if there were any possibilities down here.”
Organizers obtained a special event permit to use the Bohemia Park parking lot, for which the city does not charge a fee.
“It met all of our criteria,” said Meyers on Monday at the site of the clinic. “This is a legitimate use of the park space. They applied for a permit. We don’t judge the content of any event or activity — we can’t under the Constitution — and they met all the requirements.”
He reiterated that if the protesters’ concerns were about medical freedom, “Well, let the people come and get their vaccinations.”
Meyers said, too, that the protests would normally require a permit, but did not say whether the city would be strictly enforcing this at the time, instead choosing to keep protesters in public access areas which were outside the area already permitted for the vaccination clinic.
On the issue of informed consent, Meyers countered that information sources are ubiquitous and people choosing to get the vaccination should be allowed to do so without harassment.
“They’ve made the choice and they should be respected for that,” he said. “And a patriot would be defending their opportunities to come and get their vaccinations regardless of what their view is.”
While operating the clinic was not coming out of any local funds, Meyers added that “maintaining and taking care of the vandalism and issues that have arisen because of the protesters” was a cost, stating that public bathrooms at Bohemia Park were all simultaneously plugged.
When asked by The Sentinel, protesters denied it was anyone from their group.
The issue was taken up again at Monday night’s Cottage Grove City Council meeting where several of those representing the protests appeared in person and online.
During public comment, Johanna Zee, who testified as a former healthcare professional, criticized the city and its council for their decision to allow a clinic into town run by FEMA, “a government organization that is well known at this point for its intimidation tactics and threats to anyone who does not follow their agenda.”
She cited situations such as the “forced restraint of a young girl who was screaming” at the clinic as a strong motivating factor for protesters to show up and voice their objections.
Zee went on to say that there is enough data and research documentation for people to doubt vaccine efficacy and safety.
“So if you don’t know by now that these injections can be lethal, I invite you to remove your head from the sand, clear your mind, and do some research,” she said.
She also referenced 17,000 doctors who recently signed a declaration which rejects forcing vaccination on children, advocates weighing natural immunity more heavily in policy-making and separating health agencies and institutions from interfering with the physician-patient relationship.
She brought up the issue of informed consent at clinics as well.
“I’m all for choice,” she said, “but I am also for informed consent, and there was no informed consent (at the Bohemia Park clinic).”
Citing a Columbia University study, she added that vaccine adverse events in the reporting system were drastically underreported.
“These are crimes that are being committed in our community and we need to stand up,” she said. “Peer-reviewed studies are readily available. A lot of them to show that these potentially lethal shots are exactly what I said — lethal.”
She encouraged the city and its council to make more informed decisions for the welfare of the community.
“So as a former medical professional and researcher, I’m not sharing this with you lightly,” she said. “If there’s one ounce of doubt in your mind about what is going on, please use that doubt. Get curious and find the information.”
Another representative of the protests, Monique Peppers, read about the efficacy of masks to the council.
“Breathing through a mask decreases the amount of oxygen we need to live and be healthy,” she said. “It increases the blood acidity and makes breathing difficult.”
She also warned that masks could harm the immune system and said that there are no peer-reviewed studies demonstrating their mass effectiveness to prevent the spread of COVID.
Another speaker, Sara Myers, would not give her address for the record and so was not allowed to speak.
Bill Christiansen spoke next in defense of the protest group. Contrary to accusation again the group, he said the protesters did not believe in getting their message across through blocking driveways or plugging toilets. Instead, he said, the people he’s befriended believe in “kindness and graciousness” as manners of persuasion.
Later, during councilor comments, Councilor Mike Fleck was first to respond to the protesters’ comments.
He said he understood the fatigue around COVID but believed the city should be supporting vaccination clinics and disputed the claims about the vaccines’ lethality.
“The key here is that those numbers are very small compared to the lives that are saved with this vaccination,” he said, adding that he serves on Lane County Public Health Advisory Committee. “So far, none of the information that I’ve read that has been peer reviewed by scientists in the medical profession supports those claims (regarding high lethality).”
He also said that he did not believe vaccine mandates were a good idea, but on the point of freedom of choice issued a sharp rebuke to the protestors.
“I absolutely believe that if somebody wants a shot, it is their right to have a shot and I’m actually appalled that somebody would take away their right to choose for themselves,” he said. “I think that’s absolutely unacceptable and I’m ashamed that that has happened in our town.”
At that point audience member Myer was ejected after declaring, “It’s not about that.”
While being escorted out, she said, “It’s not about making people get a shot. It’s about taking all my rights away.”
Another protester, Peppers, soon after voiced her annoyance and exited to the lobby. A third followed. Two from the group stayed for the remainder of the council meeting.
Fleck ended, “I will certainly support the city in offering vaccination clinics at any point, and anybody who impedes them, I expect our police to hold them accountable. This is not acceptable in our city. And I hope that I’ve made myself very clear.”
Councilor Candace Solesbee spoke next, saying she felt the protesters’ concerns and fears were valid and pointed to the Food and Drug Administration’s request for 55 years to complete a Freedom of Information Act request on Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine as a valid reason for suspicion.
“But that being said, I do believe if anyone is going to protest, it should be in a respectful way,” she said. “It should always be someone’s choice if they want to be vaccinated or not … I think we should always listen to our citizens, no matter what their view is.”
Councilor Candace Savage spoke to the issue last.
“My heart aches with the two sides I see in our country — it’s in our state, it’s in our city,” she said, appealing to times when the community has rallied to support its own during times of crisis.
“I really would love to find a way to sit at the table and talk and listen,” she said. “But let’s talk about it. Let’s be respectful about it.”
Minutes of the meeting will be available on the city’s website before the next city council meeting. Full recordings of meetings are posted on the City of Cottage Grove’s Youtube channel.
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