Protest against DHMC vaccination mandate fueled by misinformation, opposition to coercion

Some employees, members of their families and community members are protesting against the requirement that all DHMC employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30.

by Cassandra Thomas | 8/26/21 2:15am

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Wayne Mitchell, right, and another protester, left, stood in the median on Route 120, cheerfully waving a sign and flag at passing cars. 

by Kyle Mullins / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Outside of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s main campus in Lebanon, around 25 dissenters lined Route 120 on Saturday in a protest against Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health’s requirement that all its employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30. Protestors emphasized that they were against the mandate and not the vaccine itself, but also cited pseudoscientific theories and misinformation about the vaccines in explaining their positions. 

A truck painted in camouflage and bearing a large sign that read, “Without informed consent, forced vaccines are violence!” was parked at the center of the protest. Protestors held signs, waved flags and interacted with passersby on the highway — some of whom honked and gave thumbs up and some of whom yelled expletives.

Kyle Mullins | The Dartmouth Senior Staff

In an Aug. 3 statement announcing the decision to mandate vaccinations, D-HH CEO and President Joanne Conroy wrote that DHMC takes its “obligation to protect the health and well-being of our patients and their families, our community and one another” very seriously. A DHMC spokesperson declined to comment. 

Since the announcement, protestors have stood outside the hospital on Route 120 every day in solidarity with staff members who refuse to get vaccinated. The leader of the protests is David Lheureux, who said his wife, Nicole, works as a licensed nursing assistant at DHMC and is currently pregnant. She has received a medical exemption from the mandate until after she gives birth and finishes breastfeeding, he said, but he still opposes the mandate because it will still impact them eventually. 

According to Lheureux's website, he quit his job to support the movement full time and camp on the side of the highway to maintain the protests.  

Lheureux said his commitment to the protest stems from his concern about the vaccine’s effect on his wife and her pregnancy, but he also emphasized that his stake in the cause is grounded in philosophical disagreement against the idea of a vaccine mandate.  

“If we’re going to go with the premise that it’s up to me to vaccinate to protect everybody, everybody must be on board with the idea that the vaccine does what it claims to,” Lheureux said. “We all know standing here that not everybody agrees that the vaccine is good for you, it’s safe, or it’s been tested enough.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data earlier this month indicating that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant people. 

Lheureux also explained his opposition to the idea that Americans should necessarily vaccinate themselves to protect others.

“[If a person is] high risk, they’re overweight, they have diabetes, or chronic illnesses… Well, I did not make that person that way,” Lheureux said. “With a forced vaccination, it’s [attaching] a level of risk to your fellow man.”

Lebanon police chief Phillip Roberts said that despite a few calls with concerns about the dissenters, the protestors are within their rights to stand on the side of Route 120 and have been in compliance with state law and ordinances of the town of Lebanon.

Kyle Mullins | The Dartmouth Senior Staff

The protesters present on Saturday advocated for a lawsuit against DHMC led by the Liberty Defense Coalition. Organizer Wes Chapmon of Bath, N.H. said that the coalition is not anti-vaccine, but instead is in favor of “informed consent.” 

When asked to elaborate, however, Chapmon repeatedly referred to the vaccine as an “experimental gene therapy,” speaking with fear about vaccine-induced blood clots passing through the blood-brain barrier and “synthetic nanolipids” causing blood loss. 

The vaccines are not gene therapies — they do not modify genetic material. The two mRNA-based vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna use a piece of genetic material from the COVID-19 virus to instruct a person’s cells on how to respond to the virus. The genetic material never enters the cell’s nucleus — where human DNA is stored — and dissolves soon after. 

Additionally, in reality, the vaccines are known only to cause serious side effects vanishingly rarely. According to the CDC, aside from an allergic reaction — which can occur, rarely, after any vaccination, not just COVID-19 shots — the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is associated with a slightly elevated risk — 7 per 1 million — of blood clots with low platelet counts in vaccinated women between 18 and 49 years old. Outside that group, the risk is even lower. 

There is also a possible risk for a rare heart condition called myocarditis and pericarditis after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for male adolescents. However, the CDC notes that despite this possible risk, which has not been confirmed, the risk of getting the same heart conditions from COVID-19 itself is far higher — and still recommends vaccination for anyone 12 and over. 

Chapmon rejected the idea that the COVID-19 vaccine provides greater protection against infection than being unvaccinated. A recent CDC study showed that, overall, unvaccinated people are five times more likely to contract COVID-19 and 29 times more likely to be hospitalized compared to those who were vaccinated. 

The organizers’ website — sueDHMC.com, which redirects to the website of the “Liberty Defense Coalition” — contains other misleading headlines, such as “Dartmouth says most COVID cases on campus are among vaccinated” and “Do COVID-19 Vaccines Contain Aborted Fetal Cells?” 

It is possible to contract COVID-19 after having received the vaccine, and many recent positive cases among Dartmouth community members are among fully vaccinated people.  However, nearly the entire Dartmouth on-campus community is vaccinated — 94%, according to the College’s dashboard — meaning that “breakthrough” cases among the vaccinated are more frequent than those among the unvaccinated due to sheer numbers alone.

The vaccines also do not contain aborted fetal cells — as, notably, the very article that the headline links to explains

Despite the focus on bodily autonomy at the protest, exemplified by a group of women who asked to remain anonymous who carried signs that read “my body, my choice,” when asked, the group unanimously agreed that they were not pro-choice when it comes to reproductive health. 

Wayne Mitchell, a retired veteran of the U.S. Air Force, attended the protest in garb from the 18th century, which he said was representative of his goal to “reintegrate 1776 values” into contemporary society. As part of the protest, Mitchell held a long musket with an American flag waving at the top. 

“It makes me sad that people don’t understand that they’re just willingly giving up their freedoms, and there’s no discernment about common sense here,” Mitchell said. “We’re not telling people, we’re not out here protesting against vaccines, we’re out here protesting that people should have a choice whether they want to [get vaccinated].”

However, Mitchell then went on to cite a different set of misinformation, which he said was being presented in some media outlets, that also runs contrary to scientifically-backed information.

“If you watch some of the Christian channels, you see the other side of the story… The vaccine mandate has not met any of its promises,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t keep you from getting hurt. It’s already been proven that people that have taken the vaccine are still getting COVID.”

It is true that the vaccines are not perfect protection against COVID-19 infection — but the vaccines do substantially reduce the likelihood of infection and vastly reduce the likelihood of serious illness or death. 

Robin Pike, a licensed nurse at DHMC who attended the protest, said she was there to represent employees who felt frustrated toward DHMC for denying their right to bodily autonomy.

“We should never have to choose between livelihood and something that we totally do not believe in, something that was fast tracked for emergency use only [and] has not been proven effective,” Pike said. 

Two days after the protest, the Food and Drug Administration issued full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock stated in a Monday press release that “the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product.”

Pike also commented on the support from passing motorists on Route 120, saying that about 90% of the feedback from cars was positive on Saturday.

“I have friends that have actually had the quote-unquote vaccine that are actually in support of us,” Pike said. “They should have the right to choose.”

Hanover health officials declined to comment on the protest, and Lebanon health officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Kyle Mullins contributed reporting. 

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