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EDITORIAL: Conspiracy theorist made hearing a farce

America has a conspiracy theory problem.

In recent years, thanks to fact-free posting on social media sites, as well the work of as those in some media who willfully spread misinformation, it seems we are often operating in a post-truth reality.

While wild fiction and outlandish tales have always been around, in days past, this consisted of people believing in UFO abductions or Elvis still being alive and were really more of a oddball curiosity that most laughed off.

Unfortunately, in the present, false information and paranoid delusions have worked their way into public policy making and has been embraced by mainstream political leaders and is shaping how our government operates.

And this was on full display this week in the Columbus, when the Ohio House Health Committee hosted a hearing on a bill, identified as a “vaccine choice” proposal, which would bar employers from mandating that employers get, not just the COVID-19 vaccine, but any vaccine.

The proposal, by Republican Rep. Jennifer Gross, would also prohibit schools, day care centers, hospitals and other institutions from doing so as well.

And, to make her case, Gross invited a witness who brought some unwanted attention on the state at a national level.

Sherri Tenpenny is an osteopathic physician from Cleveland who has been a vocal opponent of all vaccines and has earned a name for herself from the scientific community as a purveyor of falsehoods on the subject.

Her testimony went as you would expect, as she weirdly claimed vaccines “magnetize” those who receive them and told lawmakers that videos exist online of people who have keys sticking to them as a result.

Needless to say there is zero truth to any of this and factcheckers had a field day with her claims, with Politifact rating them “Pants on Fire.”

(To give you an idea of the junk science going into this: Even if Tenpenny’s absurd scenario were true and vaccines were somehow granting recipients the superpowers of Marvel Comics’ Magneto, she overlooks a key fact: Keys are made of brass, which is not magnetic.)

But Tenpenny did not stop there, she also baselessly told lawmakers that vaccines “interface” with 5G cellular towers, another outlandish conspiracy theory being circulated.

And then, as an encore to Tenpenny’s nonsensical testimony, a woman, identifying herself as a nurse, followed Tenpenny’s testimony. She asked lawmakers to explain why a key would be attracted to her neck, then proceeded to demonstrate this to the room. As you might imagine, the key did not stick.

The hearing quickly became a laughing stock, providing fodder for late night comedians and mockery of the conspiracy theories on Twitter, where users jokingly posted pictures of themselves with keys stuck to their faces.

This would all be good for a laugh if one overlooks the fact that the meeting was for a bill that could have very real consequences for the health of those in the state.

Based on the guest list for these hearings and the sheer neglect of the majority party to vet their invited speaker, it seems lawmakers are not seeking the appropriate guidance in considering this legislation.

A cursory check of Tenpenny’s record by Gross would have shown this was not someone dealing in facts…or reality.

For every positive case of COVID-19, it is a chance for the virus to mutate, become vaccine resistant and more deadly. The only way to prevent the spread is to have as many vaccinated as possible.

Here in Lawrence County, we have seen some of the lowest vaccination rates and this is true in many rural parts of the country.

This bill, and the irresponsible rhetoric, accompanied by paranoia that is more akin to something from the dark ages, does not help with that situation and could cause further vaccine hesitancy.

It is high time for legislative leaders, particularly those on the Republican side of the committee who invited Tenpenny, to get their act together, promote public safety and quit engaging in antics such as these that could lead to an endangerment of the public.

Following the hearing fiasco, Gov. Mike DeWine has said he will oppose the legislation.

Yet it will still come up for a vote in the House. We urge our local representatives to please oppose this dangerous proposal and bear in mind the tireless work of those here in the county who trying to get the vaccine distributed.

This bill would undermine those efforts and is the last thing we need as we try to move beyond this pandemic.