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Anti-vaccine protests inaugurate third year of COVID-impacted learning

Chrissy Ewald

Staff Writer

Photo credit to Grace Shiffrin

On Wednesday Sept. 1, the first major right-wing protest of the school year took place just south of campus, in front of Salem Hospital. [About 100] anti-vaccine activists associated with the group Oregon Medical Freedom Alliance gathered at the corner of Bellevue and Winter streets to protest new vaccine requirements for Oregon healthcare workers. Due to its proximity to the hospital and the state capitol, the boundaries of Willamette’s campus continue to host demonstrations on issues ranging from gun control to COVID-19 prevention measures to right-wing violence. Another protest opposing vaccine mandates is expected to take place on Saturday Sept. 18 at the State Capitol.

While the Willamette campus is off-limits to the protestors from these rallies and to weapons, the part of Winter St that runs through campus, including its sidewalks, is public property and can be accessed by protestors. If students observe someone with a weapon on Willamette’s Salem campus, the University advises that they should keep their distance and call Campus Security at 503-370-6911. Students on Willamette’s Portland campus should call 503-621-2061. Director of Campus Safety Ross Stout sent out an email on Wednesday, Sept. 1 to the Willamette community recommending students avoid the rally based on the “history of these types of groups” and concerns about the spread of COVID-19. [Previous demonstrations] have been sites of violence towards students and community members.

The Oregon Medical Freedom Alliance is a Twitter account founded in 2011 to oppose public health measures like mandatory or incentivized vaccination. They criticize what they see as medical corruption in the pharmaceutical industry and in healthcare and healthcare regulation. The poster for the Sept. 1 protest called on participants to “stand up for basic human rights, bodily autonomy, medical privacy, and medical freedom.”

On Aug. 19 2021, Governor Kate Brown [repealed] a 1989 Oregon law that had granted healthcare workers exemption from employer-mandated vaccination. Oregon now has no [laws] banning employers from mandating or requiring proof of vaccination. This move came as the spread of the Delta variant through Oregon pushed case numbers for the month of August to their highest since the start of the pandemic. The Oregon Health Authority [reports] that the number of available staffed ICU beds remains low, with a statewide average of 7% reported on Sep 3. The [number] of Oregonians over 16 who are fully vaccinated (56.6% reported on Sep. 3) remains well below the 75-80% required to achieve herd immunity. Vaccination status is not a protected category under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the 1964 Civil Rights Act, per an [analysis] by the Associated Press. The repeal has faced stiff pushback from the Oregon Nurses Association, which says a mandate will exacerbate staffing shortages as nurses who don’t want to get vaccinated will quit.

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