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Kalispell lawmaker promotes false vaccine conspiracy theory

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | April 27, 2021 7:00 AM

A longtime state lawmaker from Kalispell promoted a false conspiracy theory about COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday during a public debate in the Montana Senate.

Senators were debating House Bill 702, which would prohibit public and private employers in the state from requiring workers to get vaccinated, going a step beyond a recent executive order by Gov. Greg Gianforte that purports to ban the use of so-called "immunity passports."

Republican Sen. Keith Regier, a former Evergreen Junior High School teacher who has served in the Legislature since 2009, was testifying against an amendment to the bill when he raised alarm about tiny tracking devices being inserted into vaccine doses — a theory, based on no evidence, that has been widely circulated online throughout the pandemic. The amendment would have created an exception in the bill for vaccines that have full federal approval.

"It's still requiring an employee to put something into their bodies in order to be employed. That's crazy," Regier said. "What's next? I've read articles about putting a little chip in with the vaccine. There you got, right there — so what if that is federally approved and the employer requires that?"

The remark drew consternation from other lawmakers.

Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, wrote on Twitter shortly afterward: "Senator Keith Regier (R-Kalispell) just explained to us that the feds pre-filled syringes with RFID tracking devices injected into us through our COVID vaccinations. I did forget my tin foil hat today."

REGIER DIDN'T specify the sources of his information on Thursday and didn't respond to messages seeking comment on Friday.

RFID stands for radio-frequency identification. The technology has been in use for decades in things like car keys, employee badges, security access cards and dashboard-mounted devices used to automatically assess highway tolls.

RFID chips or tags also are used to manage inventories of many types of products. They don't contain personal information — only numbers that can be used as individual identifiers, like barcodes or serial numbers.

A company called ApiJect Systems Corp. has a contract with the federal government to use its manufacturing system to make prefilled syringes of COVID-19 vaccines.

The company's CEO has spoken about the option of placing RFID tags on the labels of the syringes to track vaccine inventory and expiration dates. A video of the interview circulating on social media was doctored to make it appear those chips would be injected into patients — something the CEO never actually said, according to PolitiFact and other fact-checking organizations.

Numerous versions of the "vaccine microchips" conspiracy theory have proliferated on the internet, many involving Dr. Anthony Fauci, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and devious plots to track and monitor American citizens. Health experts dismiss all those theories as preposterous hoaxes.

"Even the smallest version of RFID chips are rather large such that none would ever fit into a vaccine needle — these are very small-bore needles," Dr. Wilbur Chen, an infectious-disease scientist at the University of Maryland, told PolitiFact last year. "The RFID chips that are routinely used for the tracking of pets are as small as a grain of rice … or in other words, they are as large as a grain of rice, and no vaccine needles in use are that large in diameter."

Montana Democrats and other Republicans have struck a different tone when discussing COVID-19 vaccines. Gianforte has consistently touted the vaccines as safe and effective, and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines took part in a large-scale scientific trial for the Pfizer vaccine before it was approved for emergency use last fall.

Asked about Regier's remarks during a call with reporters on Friday, Montana Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour said, "I just think it's unnecessary, and we should be concerned about people propagating information that is so incorrect to the people of Montana."

ON THURSDAY, the Senate advanced HB 702 on a party-line 31-19 vote, setting up a final vote in that chamber and then another vote in the House before the measure would go to Gianforte's desk.

Arguing in favor of the legislation, Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, also made a misleading statement about perceived dangers of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

"Over 900 people have died after receiving the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines," McGillvray said. "Requiring someone to get a vaccine could be a life-or-death decision for them if they have to comply under coercion of being fired."

McGillvray did not mention that more than 214 million doses of those vaccines have been administered in the United States, nor did he clarify that no causal relationship has been established between the vaccines and those deaths.

The figure he cited — more than 900 deaths — was taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, an online data collection tool that relies on reports of side effects from health-care providers and vaccine manufacturers, as well as the public.

The tool features this disclaimer: "While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental or unverifiable.

"In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases. This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind."

Arguing against HB 702, Democrats said state law already protects people who choose not to get vaccinated for personal medical or religious reasons.

"I just also want to remind the body that there have been over 3 million deaths worldwide due to this virus that's out there right now, and in the United States 569,000 deaths," said Sen. Jen Gross, D-Billings. "And that number is going up as people continue to choose not to get vaccinated."