Kelly blames ‘misinformation’ campaign for vaccine hesitancy

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Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday took the offensive against what she labeled a “campaign of misinformation” that’s discouraging Kansans from getting vaccines that would prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

At a news conference alongside two physicians Friday at St. Luke’s South Hospital in Overland Park, Kelly acknowledged the uncertainty of some Kansans to get a vaccine that’s been found to be safe.

But she went on to blame hesitancy on the spread of bad information about the vaccine and the virus in general, including comments made by Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall questioning whether masks are effective.

“I want to be clear,” Kelly said.

“Much of this uncertainty is caused by blatantly false information,” she said. “This misinformation has caused preventable sickness and preventable deaths.”

Without naming names, Kelly called out people “in positions of leadership who hold influence” for using COVID-19 to divide the public politically.

“I want those who are weaponizing misinformation to know: Your actions do not hurt me,” Kelly said as she wagged right finger behind the podium.

“Your actions hurt your neighbors with preexisting conditions because hospitals are rejecting transfer patients due to staff and bed shortages,” she said.

“Your actions hurt your local businesses that lose revenue because people are having to stay home to avoid contracting the virus,” she said

“Your actions are hurting our teachers who have to risk their safety every day because their students aren’t wearing masks,” she said.

Kelly sidestepped a question about how much Republicans in the Legislature should bear responsibility for sharing misinformation related to COVID-19, although there are clearly some who oppose mandates for vaccines and masks.

“Generically, you understand, there are some who are providing misleading information and really make a campaign of it,” she said.

“I think it’s wrong. I would implore them to step up…and get on the team, the team to prevent this from getting any worse in the state of Kansas.”

Kelly also was asked about Marshall’s comments in a recent interview where he questioned the value of masks in preventing the spread of the virus, an idea that public health experts have rejected.

“No one has convinced me that masks really work, especially for people that have already had the vaccine or natural immunity,” Marshall told Newsmax.

“The masks might give a little bit of protection to my parents,” Marshall told Newsmax.

“I just think that we’re kidding ourselves if we think kids wearing masks helps. It probably makes matters worse.”

Kelly’s thoughts about Marshall’s remarks: “That’s a problem.”

“When you have, you know, high profile public figures spreading misinformation, it is a problem,” she said. “We’re here to provide the facts.”

Dena Hubbard, a pediatrician and chair of the public policy committee for the Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, echoed a similar concern about misinformation.

“Misinformation has been and continues to be deadly. I’m not being dramatic,” Hubbard said. “If you have questions, don’t go to Facebook, don’t go to YouTube.

“Go to your doctor, your physician that you trust,” Hubbard said.

Kelly noted that the COVID-19 situation in Kansas is worsening, especially among those who are not yet vaccinated.

She said COVID-19 infections are more prevalent now than they were before the vaccine was available at the start of the year.

“It shouldn’t be like this,” she said.

She said nearly all patients admitted to intensive care units with the COVID-19 virus have not been vaccinated.

She said ICUs are at 100% capacity at six of the state’s largest hospitals with two-thirds of the beds in those units assigned to COVID patients.

“Other hospitals across Kansas are perilously close to maximum capacity,” she said.

The governor said there were more patients admitted to Kansas hospitals on Wednesday than on any other single day since the pandemic started last year.

“These patients are younger and they’re sicker than those infected prevaccine availability,” the Democratic governor said.

The latest state health department data showed that only 28% of the state’s 1,135 intensive care beds are available.

As of Thursday, there were 23 pediatric patients admitted to a hospital with COVID-19.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 56% of the state’s population over the age of 12 is now fully vaccinated.

Almost 67% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, the federal data show.

By comparison, 65% of people in Colorado are now fully vaccinated compared to 56% in Kansas. About 61% in Nebraska are fully vaccinated and 51% in Missouri have completed the series of vaccinations.