LATHAM — A large crowd opposed to COVID vaccine mandates rallied Wednesday outside the Route 7 headquarters of the union for New York teachers, rallying against moves to force pandemic control measures on teachers and pupils.
The event wasn’t organized by New York State United Teachers, and NYSUT has not taken a position on COVID vaccine mandates for children, a spokesman said.
But NYSUT has supported mask requirements and mandatory testing for unvaccinated teachers as part of a comprehensive strategy to fight the pandemic that has infected more than one in 10 New Yorkers and killed more than 58,000.
Parents, teachers and children were among the group of over 100 people gathered in NYSUT’s parking lot. While they reserved their greatest criticism for those who impose mandates, they also were unhappy that NYSUT hasn’t fought against mandates.
Speaker after speaker argued against mandates: COVID vaccines don’t work, and actively cause physical harm; vaccine mandates violate personal freedoms, and are pointless because the vaccine doesn’t work; requiring only the unvaccinated to mask up or get tested is pointless because vaccinated people are getting infected themselves and transmitting the disease to others.
The speakers focused on science and civil liberties, but hesitancy or even hostility toward government control was plainly visible as well: The FDA-approved vaccines are experimental gene therapy, one speaker said. The mainstream media is in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry. Those who choose not to vaccinate are being made second-class citizens.
One of the more enthusiastic responses came as Albany Attorney Kevin O’Brien projected a Supreme Court victory over mandates and offered a hearty “Let’s Go Brandon!” — the recent rallying cry for Joe Biden’s detractors, a veiled reference to an obscene act with the 46th president of the United States.
COLLECTIVE VS. INDIVIDUAL
The state Assembly bill that would mandate COVID vaccination for children attending public school was one of the triggers that led to Wednesday’s rally being organized. Its co-sponsor is Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, whose district includes the NYSUT headquarters.
Steck did not attend, and he did not rethink his support for the legislation after learning of the rally’s message later Wednesday.
“Here’s the thing,” he said, “in the 1950s when we had outbreaks of disease, we had no difficulty getting people vaccinated.”
Vaccination protects the populace only if the vast majority of the populace gets vaccinated, he said, so the vast majority needs to be vaccinated — the collective need outweighs the individual need.
“We have a Bill of Rights but all the rights yield to a compelling governmental interest,” Steck said. “This is a pandemic and an emergency.”
He chuckled at the suggestion he and like-minded legislators might be in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry.
Steck called himself one of the biggest proponents of a single-payer health system, which would be inimical to Big Pharma, and noted he’s a civil rights attorney who works daily to protect people’s rights.
“Public health outweighs personal freedom,” he said. “All rights are not absolute.”
The mainstream medical community also is in favor of childhood vaccination.
The Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 29 authorized the Pfizer vaccine for use for children age 5 to 11. Earlier this year, it authorized vaccination of adolescents aged 12 to 17.
The American Academy of Pediatrics on Nov. 2 recommended the COVID-19 vaccine for all children 5 or older who don’t have complicating medical conditions.
The state of New York is actively encouraging vaccination of children as young as 5 and taking steps to facilitate vaccination.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office did not return a request for comment Wednesday on whether it supported a COVID vaccine mandate for children.
Several speakers at Wednesday’s rally emphasized they were not anti-vaxxers, opposed to all vaccines on principle.
Rather, it’s mandates they are fighting, and differential treatment for the unvaccinated.
Jenn Clift of Niskayuna, a Schenectady school teacher, said people are losing their jobs, Facebook groups are being suppressed, and unvaccinated people are facing overt workplace hostility, she said.
“I think the main goal is to raise consciousness,” she said about Wednesday’s rally. “I’m worried about the mentality and the mindset shift.”
Vicki Savini said she and teachers who have similar concerns are not seeing enough response from NYSUT about the mandates.
“Many of us who asked questions to our union president have not gotten answers back,” she said.
“I don’t want to see happen here in our area what happened in New York City, being forced to put something in my body to keep my job,” she said, referring to that city’s ultimatum to teachers: Get vaccinated or get fired.
Savini said the rally came together rapidly after she and other concerned people met with Republican congressional candidate Liz Joy in late October.
Joy attended the rally Wednesday, and invited the platoon of children carrying signs in the parking to stand beside her as she spoke.
She said she was glad to be there with like-minded people and applauded their courage in standing up.
“Sadly, we’re in a time when speaking up and out on these unconstitutional mandates can come with a lot of backlash,” Joy said. “The results of these mandates are so harmful to so many individuals … at so many levels.”
Others spoke of the American over-reliance on medication; the daughter hospitalized with a severe reaction to the vaccine she had to get before starting college; the idea that a union should represent all of its members, not some; the discriminatory nature of Hochul offering children a chance to win a college scholarship if they took the vaccine.
A young child toted a sign supporting the Nuremberg Code, the ethical protocols for medical experimentation drawn up after the horrors committed in Nazi Germany were revealed.
The idea of collective responsibility that Steck raised was apparently a non-starter with the crowd Wednesday: In the focus on individual rights, there was no mention of the rights of individuals who might be infected in a classroom by an unvaccinated, unmasked, untested pupil or teacher.
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