COVID vaccine safety: Sen. Johnson hosting Milwaukee event

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson plans to hold an event in Milwaukee on Monday, June 28, that will question COVID-19 vaccine safety, a story FOX6 broke.

The senator will be joined by those who say they had adverse side effects, including the wife of a former Green Bay Packers player.

Johnson supported Operation Warp Speed, which led to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines – but it's not stopping him from continuing to ask questions.

"None of us are anti-vaxxers. We’re all huge supporters of vaccines. I’ve gotten every vaccine, every flu vaccine. I’m up to date on all my other vaccines," said Sen. Johnson. "I'm glad that literally hundreds of millions of Americans have been vaccinated and been protected, but I don’t think you can ignore some of the issues, some of the problems."

The Wisconsin senator himself has not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, citing his high level of antibodies. The CDC still recommends everyone who can, including those who already had COVID-19, get vaccinated.

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Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)

Event concerns some

Wisconsin primary care Dr. Joanna Bisgrove has worried about the senator's past statements on the COVID-19 vaccines. "This misinformation is putting people at risk and already hurting people."

Friday, Gov. Tony Evers tweeted a response to the senator – calling his decision to hold the event "reckless and irresponsible."

FOX6 News asked the senator Thursday if he was worried his rhetoric and bringing the issue forward would keep people from getting the vaccine that could potentially save more lives.

"I’m never concerned about conveying the truth, and there is nothing I am saying that isn’t truthful, that isn’t information that I believe the American people ought to have," Sen. Johnson said.

VAERS, CDC information

Sen. Johnson cited the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which lists 5,078 deaths of people who got a COVID-19 vaccine. Those are unverified reports from doctors and the public. The CDC said VAERS info may be "incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental or unverifiable."

"The VAERS system is kind of like a crowd-sourcing system so that the public can report anything that they think could be connected with the vaccine," explained Dr. Ajay Sethi with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, an infectious disease epidemiologist. "Somebody could report potentially false reports, but that’s really rare. The CDC has said that doesn’t occur often because that’s a federal crime.

"People will report things if they have any kind of suspicion – but that doesn’t mean it’s caused by the vaccine. The system is important because you want to be able to crowdsource that information from people who receive the vaccine, their health care providers, their family members, but a lot of investigation is needed after the CDC gets that data to really determine if there’s something causally related."

The CDC reports more than 320 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, meaning if all 5,078 VAERS deaths are later found to be causally linked with the shot, it would be 0.001%. Johns Hopkins University finds COVID-19 itself is much deadlier in the U.S., killing 1.8% of those infected.

"There are occasional side effects. They’ve been very mild. And the risk of dying from COVID, if you’re unvaccinated or having long-haul syndrome is much higher than any kinds of issues patients have with side effects," said UW Health Primary Care Dr. Jeff Huebner.

Sen. Johnson said he wants to shine a light on those effects.

"All these individuals are asking is to be seen, to be heard, and to be believed. To be taken seriously," said Johnson.

Ken Ruettgers, a Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame member, said his wife had severe neurological reactions four days after her first COVID-19 vaccine dose – including muscle pain, numbness and weakness.

He tells FOX6 she still has problems, several months after the shot.On Monday, they will be sharing that story, alongside the senator, in Milwaukee.