Senator Johnson, families speak: COVID vaccine adverse reactions

Some people report the COVID-19 vaccines led to serious side effects – and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) hosted a few of them in Milwaukee on Monday, June 28.

The event drew criticism. Gov. Tony Evers (D-Wisconsin) said Sen. Johnson is being "reckless and irresponsible" -- and Milwaukee's health commissioner accused Johnson of raising "misleading concerns."

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)

While the senator said on Monday the vast majority of vaccines have been safely administered, he added everyone should hear from people reporting serious problems. 

He handed out documents based on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which he says included 384,270 adverse events related to the COVID-19 vaccines, including 4,812 deaths. This database includes unverified reports from doctors and the public, which the CDC says may be "incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable."

Among those joining Sen. Johnson's panel was Maddie de Garay, who volunteered for the Pfizer vaccine trial when she was 12 and now is in a wheelchair.

"Why is she not back to normal? She was totally fine before this. She did the right in trying to help everyone else and they’re not helping here," said Stephanie de Garay, Maddie's mother.

Stephanie de Garay and daughter, Maddie

Stephanie de Garay and daughter, Maddie

Maddie's mother said her daughter has been to the emergency room nine times – and she has been hospitalized three times.

"All we want is for Maddie to be seen, heard, and believed because she has not been. And we want her to get the care that she desperately needs, so she can go back to normal," said Stephanie de Garay, in tears.

Others also joined Sen. Johnson on Monday to share their stories after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

"It feels like you’ve got a little electronic shock running through your body, like your stuck in a vibrating chair, like glued into it, and it never stops. I have tremors in my hands which has made me leary if I’ll ever be able to practice as a hygienist again. And I am so fearful that I may have a neurological issue after this, like Parkinson's," said Kristi Dobbs, a dental hygienist from Missouri, who adds that her side effects include pain, paresthesia and heart palpitations.

"We are the collateral damage of the pandemic. As you can see, I am recovering. I can walk, the touch of my little son’s hand no longer feels like it’s setting me on fire," said Brianne Dressen. She's a preschool teacher from Utah, who volunteered for the Astra Zeneca vaccine trial. 

Former Green Bay Packers player Ken Ruetggers urged Sen. Johnson to host Monday's event. His wife, Sheryl, said she was still experiencing severe neurological reactions, including muscle pain, numbness, weakness and paresthesia.

Ken Ruetggers

Ken Ruetggers

"The vaccine is generally safe. Senator Johnson said that today. That’s true. However, there is a small percentage that are having some severe reactions. In this case, severe neurological reactions. And I think we need to see this is a responsibility, an opportunity to take care of people who have part of the collective solution," Ken Ruetggers said.

Johnson said his goal it to give these people a platform, so the health community will acknowledge them and get to the root cause – to find a cure for these problems and to prevent serious side effects for those getting the vaccines in the future.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)

"This is more misinformation that is going to put people at risk," said Charles Manning, a registered nurse. "He’s glorifying the idea that you can be harmed from something that something statistically, the harmful is more harmful."

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services tells FOX6 that 412, that's 95% of COVID-19 deaths in the state from March 1, 2021 through June 24, 2021, were among people who are not fully vaccinated. 

FOX6 questioned the senator on criticisms he's putting lives in jeopardy.

"I’m never afraid of conveying the truth, providing people information," said Sen. Johnson. "I think the American public should be able to have informed consent when deciding whether or not to take an experimental vaccine, one way or the other. I think it’s important to recognize that there are people that have been harmed by the vaccine. And if we don’t acknowledge that fact, how do you treat people that you’re not acknowledging the root cause of the problem."

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Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson criticized the senator. "Senator Ron Johnson, who publicly confirmed he is unvaccinated, has used his platform today to raise misleading concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. The scientific facts about the COVID-19 vaccine remain: it is safe, it is effective, and complications are extremely rare. More importantly, it saves lives."

Sen. Johnson himself has not been vaccinated, saying he has the antibodies. Still, the CDC recommends everyone – even those who had COVID-19 – get the shot.

The senator says he's responding to a cry from these people to be heard. "Someone’s got to step up the plate and tell people the truth that people don’t want to hear." 

FOX6 asked if that factor would lead him to stay in the U.S. Senate, so he can still have a podium to speak out on issues like this one. For months, he's said he hasn't made up his mind on whether to seek a third term.

"That would probably be one of the more important factors, yeah," Johnson responded. "If no one else is willing to step out there and talk about unpopular truths, that would be one of the considerations."

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