Republican Rep. Ken Weyler was well-known in New Hampshire for his dismissal of the COVID-19 vaccines, and opposition to tens of million of dollars in federal funds to support vaccinations.
Republican leaders were forced to act when Weyler, a 79-year old retired commercial pilot and Massachusetts Institute of Technology grad, submitted a 52-page report comparing vaccines to “organized murder.”
“I don’t know anyone who would agree with it.” “It’s absolute crazy,” Sherman Packard, Republican House Speaker, said. He quickly accepted Weyler’s resignation from his position on the committee.
This episode was particularly affecting in New Hampshire, where the former House speaker died from COVID-19 last January. It also revealed the persistent struggle of Republicans to eradicate misinformation from its ranks throughout the country.
Surveys a year and half after the pandemic began show that Republicans are less concerned about COVID-19 and its variants, less confident science-wise, less likely to get vaccinated than Democrats, independents, and more opposed vaccine mandates.
This combination of views comes with clear risks to your health and possible political consequences. Republicans hope to win back New Hampshire’s congressional seats next year. In New Hampshire, fringe politicians can distract voters from the party’s agenda, driving away moderates and independents.
This is especially true in New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” state, where the fight against vaccines has triggered the libertarian wing. These divisions could dominate the Republican primaries next spring.
“What I wonder over this next year is whether all of that is the tip of an iceberg?” Dante Scala (political science professor at the University of New Hampshire) said.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, New Hampshire Republicans have struggled to unite around a common position.
Republican Governor. While Chris Sununu is widely praised for his handling the pandemic, conservative critics have also criticized him. They have resisted his state of emergency that placed restrictions on business operations and public gatherings. This led to protests at Sununu’s house as well as other areas.
Sununu, who plans to run against Democratic U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan for the Senate in 2016, joined other Republican leaders in opposing a federal vaccination mandate. His critics were not pleased with his actions, as they repeatedly yelled at fellow Republicans at a press conference held last month to protest the federal vaccine mandate.
The crowd, which included one protester who was carrying signs that read “I will die before you comply”, took control of the podium. They put up their own speakers and predicted, without any evidence, that the mandate would cause the state’s hospitals and clinics to close.
One Republican lawmaker, Rep. William Marsh switched parties because of the opposition by Republican leaders to federal vaccine mandates.
Marsh, a former ophthalmologist and vice chair of the House Health and Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, stated that Marsh believes that people’s individual rights are more important than everything and that no one can impose a vaccine mandate on anyone. “I believe that individual rights in civilized societies are limited if they impinge upon the rights of others.
When he first asked Health and Human Services for data on hospitalizations in the state, the Weyler controversy began last month. The state’s health commissioner accused him of spreading misinformation after he suggested that most hospitalized patients had been vaccinated. She said that 90% of the hospitalized were not vaccinated.
Gallup polling in September revealed that 57% of Democrats are worried about contracting the coronavirus, compared to 18% for Republicans. 79% of Democrats believe vaccines will protect them against new variants, while 45% of Republicans are less confident.
Weyler was one of a number of Republican lawmakers that were so against the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates, they pushed for millions in federal funding to be rejected. This week, $27 million was rejected by a Republican-controlled Executive Council, a five-member panel that approves state contracts, despite calls from Sununu to accept the funding.
The money would have enabled the state to hire a public-health manager and 12 workers to address public vaccination concerns. Opponents feared that it would have made the state comply with any future directives issued by the Biden administration concerning COVID-19. These could include vaccine mandates.
Sununu had to rebut a suggestion that this was the new Republican Party position after the vote.
“I don’t believe that most of those protesting were members of the Republican Party. These are anti-government, shut-it-down, no-government-at-all-costs type individuals,” he told reporters.
Rebuild NH was one of the opposition groups to the mandates. They responded Friday to the arrests of protesters attending the Executive Council meeting calling Sununu a despot, and demanding that he be punished for his involvement in “this crime against New Hampshire”.
Democrats have taken advantage of the GOP divisions and claimed that Republicans were too slow in seeking Weyler’s resignation. They also accused Weyler and his coworkers of causing damage to the state’s image, slowing vaccine efforts, and enabling antivaccine extremists.
Weyler’s report claimed that shots were perpetuating “greatest organized mass killing in the history of the world.” It also included claims about vaccines that contained living organisms with tentacles, and unsubstantiated reports of babies born to vaccinated parents from South America with signs of premature age.
Mary Jane Wallner, a Democratic Representative from Virginia, said that she was “pretty much shocked” that anyone would send the report to her. She received it by email.
Weyler resigned to say he would not be distracted and that he had not vetted the material that contained conspiracy theories and sections that were offensive to certain groups of people. He is still a member of the 400-member House.
When asked for more information, Weyler replied that he didn’t have anything to add to The Associated Press.
Experts who examined the report found it full of misinformation and unsubstantiated claims pulled from social networks.
Al Ozonoff, an associate professor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and associate director at the Precision Vaccines Program Boston Children’s Hospital stated in an email that “there is no way for me, you, or anyone else on the receiving end, to fact-check or evaluate the accuracy or content of the statements therein.”
The report’s authors include a doctor who falsely advocated the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. They told the AP that they stand by their findings.
“Sticking your nose in the dirt doesn’t change reality.” David Sorensen, one of the authors, stated in an email interview that it just made him blind and ignorant.