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Aug. 1, 2021

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In Our View: Quiring O’Brien’s denial of facts is dangerous

The Columbian
Published:

Clark County is not immune to the misinformation that has hampered efforts to stop the coronavirus pandemic. In such a climate, it is imperative that elected officials share reliable information about the virus and vaccines.

Instead, County Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien has embraced some of the most absurd conspiracies surrounding the pandemic. In the process, she has irresponsibly violated her role as a community leader and given voice to beliefs that have no basis in fact.

During a meeting of the Clark County Board of Health last week, Quiring O’Brien recommended creating greater barriers to COVID-19 vaccinations for 12- to 15-year-olds. The issue is worthy of discussion, but that discussion must be centered on truth rather obscure pseudo-science.

In support of her stance, Quiring mentioned a lawsuit in Alabama — filed by a group called America’s Frontline Doctors — to block emergency vaccine authorization for that age group.

First, the existence of a lawsuit proves nothing about the merits of that suit. Second, the group in question has a well-documented history of embracing half-baked beliefs that destroy their credibility.

A Houston doctor who has served as a spokesman for the group has promoted the use of hydroxycholoroquine for treating COVID-19, a suggestion rejected by responsible scientists.

In the past, the doctor has claimed that gynecological problems are caused by people having sex with demons and witches in their dreams — a claim that led to the phrase “demon sperm” trending on Twitter. She also has said that extraterrestrial DNA is used in medical treatments; that the government is run by reptilians, not humans; and that researchers are working on a vaccine to prevent people from being religious.

In addition, Simone Gold, the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, has been indicted for taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Typically, the inane rantings of a far-away fringe group would be of little interest in Clark County. But they must be addressed because of Quiring O’Brien’s reckless decision to echo them, and it must be pointed out that her misinformation campaign did not end there. She also claimed that coronavirus vaccines are “experimental” — a gross mischaracterization of the process.

Vaccines used to inoculate more than 160 million Americans have undergone rigorous testing and have been cleared for emergency use. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been cleared for use by people as young as 12, and the Moderna vaccine is expected to receive that clearance soon. First distributed to adults in December, the vaccines have been instrumental in reducing the rate of COVID infections throughout the country.

While Quiring O’Brien has a long history of willfully ignoring reality, it is disturbing that many others share her views regarding vaccines. As reported by The Columbian, Councilors Gary Medvigy and Karen Bowerman also favor trying to prevent vaccinations for the younger cohort, and Quiring O’Brien falsely claimed that minors may receive shots without parental approval.

Meanwhile, groups of protesters have gathered at several schools in the area to decry requirements to wear masks and the use of vaccines.

People are entitled to their beliefs. But elected officials must be held to a standard of truth and fact-based conclusions. Quiring O’Brien has obscenely violated that standard in a manner that is not only irresponsible but is dangerous.

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