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Wichita aircraft workers air vaccine grievances, conspiracy theories to Sen. Marshall

Wichita eagle logo Wichita eagle 10/18/2021 Dion Lefler, The Wichita Eagle

Oct. 15—As decision day approaches for hundreds, possibly thousands of workers who have to get vaccinated for COVID or lose their jobs, Sen. Roger Marshall gave Wichita aircraft union leaders a platform Friday to air their concerns, grievances and conspiracy theories about vaccination.

The roundtable session exposed some workers' deep distrust of their employers, medical experts and President Joe Biden, who has made vaccines an occupational safety issue and ordered mandatory vaccination for most employees in health care, the federal government, federal contractors and companies with more than 100 employees.

Some of the approximately 30 workers participating compared the vaccine mandate with the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler and floated a debunked conspiracy theory that the vaccines used to fight COVID contain aborted fetal tissue.

"I think there's a lot of emotional issues out there, people losing their job," Marshall said. "I think what my read is that people are concerned about losing their God-given constitutional rights. They feel like that conservative thought is being censored. They feel like their religious freedoms are being taken away from them as well."

A running theme throughout the meeting was that aircraft workers, once deemed so essential that they had to work in close quarters through the worst of the pandemic, are suddenly disposable if they refuse vaccination.

They got a sympathetic ear from Marshall, who said that he's heard concerns about mandatory vaccination for months and that it's turning to panic as it grows closer.

Final rules are expected as early as next week and enforcement is expected by early December.

The most emotional moment in the meeting was when a tearful Textron electrician, Kimberly Fedd, outlined health problems that she thinks were caused by getting the shots.

Fedd said she got the vaccine on her doctor's advice because she's diabetic and has other health issues.

"Pretty shortly, maybe within two weeks or something, my arms were very blotchy," she said. "It didn't burn, it didn't itch but it was definitely a rash of some sort. And then I was having some issues with my heart speeding up . . . so I talked to my doctor.

"He did x-rays and cardiograms and different things and figured out . . . I now have an enlarged heart and I have an irregular heartbeat, which they have horribly called congestive heart failure . . . Those things were not part of the pre-existing [conditions]."

Fedd was one of two women there wearing shirts reading "My body my choice," a longtime slogan of abortion-rights supporters that has been repurposed for the vaccine resistance movement.

Marshall thanked her for her story.

"I think that's what I want the White House to hear," he said. "We're not all at the same clinical situation going on here."

The only dissenting voice from the anti-vaccination line at Marshall's meeting was Jeff Townsend, a business manager in the Sheet Metal Workers Union.

"There's a lot of rah-rah and a lot of speculation, but I haven't gathered many facts," he told Marshall near the end of the meeting.

He questioned the other union leaders' estimates that about 30% of their members are against being vaccinated.

"The 30 percent's been flung around enough, obviously a guess," he said. "I wouldn't begin to know what percentage of my membership is."

He challenged Marshall directly over the senator's ongoing battle with the Centers for Disease Control over counting people who have been previously infected with COVID, who gain some natural immunity, as equivalent to being vaccinated.

"You also said the CDC hasn't opined on the natural immunity versus the [vaccination] boosters, and they have, on Aug. 6," Townsend said. "And it is their opinion that it's better to have the shot. Even after you've had COVID, you're more immune with both of them in the CDC's opinion."

And he questioned Marshall's assertion that 30% to 50% of military reservists are unvaccinated.

"I wonder if you heard that from the same person that my son heard that half the people in the ICU were vaccinated, because that's not a fact either," he said.

Marshall bristled a bit at Townsend's comments.

"I think that probably my sources on the military are a little bit better than your son's rumor mill," Marshall said. According to a Washington Post report quoting the Department of Defense, Marshall's estimates were accurate as of Oct. 8.

"On the CDC opining, I'm going to beg to differ with you," Marshall said. "The CDC conflates the issue and that's what they're trying to do, they want to confuse everybody. So I agree that if you've had the virus plus vaccine, it's a little bit better than just having had the virus.

"But that's not the issue," he added. "The issue for your workers is if they've had the virus, or the vaccine, and then [are] treated differently. So I think the CDC has opined on something that's not even the issue here because that's the only leg they've got to stand on."

After the meeting, Townsend said he's only heard from five or six of his 200 members who are against vaccination.

He said he got vaccinated as soon as he could and looks forward to when he can get a booster shot.

"I pretty much have underlying conditions, I'm old and fat and got COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]," he said.

As for side effects, "I did have a sore arm when they stuck a needle in it," he said.

The meeting also featured a discussion of an oft-repeated but widely debunked Internet rumor that COVID vaccines contain cells from aborted fetuses.

"Is there really dead fetuses in the shots?" asked Doug Cline, who works in safety at Spirit AeroSystems. "I mean is there? Well if there is . . . they say there is, right? The Bible I read says, and what I believe, I don't believe in abortion. That's me. That doesn't mean I'm right or wrong. It means that I have a choice. Our company has taken that choice from you."

Marshall, a physician, didn't seek to dispel that theory during the meeting, instead chalking it up as a valid concern.

"The fetal parts, I"m getting conflicting information," Marshall said. "The one that I thought had no parts in it is now being said, well maybe it did . . . Like you sir, I believe in the sanctity of life. I think that life begins at conception . . . I took the vaccine, the one that I thought didn't have any type of aborted fetus parts in it. I don't want to make this too technical, but then later I found out some of the techniques they used to study it, some of those reagents may have had some kind of connection back to fetal aborted cells. So it's challenging."

Later, in a after-meeting news conference, Marshall clarified.

"I don't think it's in the vaccine, I think it was parts used to help develop it," he said. "Some of the vaccines may have used some fetal parts from decades ago. It's my understanding that some of them didn't. And right now, it's very confusing the information out there which ones did and didn't use it."

All three manufacturers of U.S.-approved vaccines, along with numerous state health departments and educational institutions, have issued statements that the vaccines contain no fetal cells. And the Vatican — a leading opponent of abortion worldwide — has approved use of the vaccines.

"The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain aborted fetal cells," said a statement by the University of California at Los Angeles. "However, Johnson & Johnson did use fetal cell lines — not fetal tissue — when developing and producing their vaccine, while Pfizer and Moderna used fetal cell lines to test their vaccines and make sure that they work.

"Fetal cell lines are grown in a laboratory and were started with cells from elective abortions that occurred several decades ago in the 1970s-80s. They are now thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue," the statement said.

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