If you wonder why COVID-19 cases are on the rise, why the delta variant has taken hold and why this pandemic isn’t over, look no further than a small church in East Northport.
There, on Tuesday night, a standing-room-only crowd, combined with hundreds more on Zoom, listened as a local pediatrician, advocates and lawyers painted a dark picture of fear, health risks and death — not due to the pandemic, but to the best solution we have: the vaccine. Social media promotions urged people to "PLEASE bring all of your friends and family members who are ON THE FENCE about getting the jab."
Conservative commentators and leading Republicans in Congress may suddenly be pushing a pro-vaccine narrative to stop the spread of the delta variant, but the resistance movement on Long Island is now spreading organically.
The church's small parking lot filled, as cars spilled onto surrounding streets. A line of people stretched out the front door, as more than 100 attended in-person, many unmasked, and about 245 virtually, including me.
If there were people who heard Tuesday's central speaker, Northport pediatrician Lawrence Palevsky, without any countering, factual information, they’d go running from the vaccine.
There is a risk of promulgating misinformation further but it's important to hear some of Palevsky's assertions to understand how the flames of fear are being fanned in the widening bubble of vaccine opposition on Long Island.
- "Anyone who gives this injection to their kids should prepare not to be grandparents."
- "Not only are there 1,000 babies that we know of who died in utero from mothers who got the shot, but there are tens of thousands of reports of mothers who were exposed to women and men who got the shot who then lost their fetus."
- "Many of us are actually concerned that there's much more in these shots that’s being transmitted, especially because we're seeing some magnetism that’s occurring..."
- "Our government, our medical authorities, our medical organizations and our media are lying to us — directly to our faces."
Palevsky also said there have been 120,000 post-shot deaths and suggested unvaccinated individuals could get sick from those who are vaccinated, even discussing how a child whose grandparents had the shot became cross-eyed.
The reality: Instances of adverse vaccine side effects are extraordinarily rare and many of Palevsky's conclusions are simply untrue.
Tuesday's discussion also centered around vaccine mandates. Lawyers Jim Mermigis and Kevin Barry, and activists Rita Palma and John Gilmore, who fight vaccine requirements, promised legal and political battles and help with exemptions.
"One of the things we can do is clean up your religious exemption and make it as religious as possible and make it very pure," Barry said.
This followed a recent mandate-related protest and news conference, which included local politicians. Riverhead Assemb. Jodi Giglio called the vaccine "a huge experiment on society."
No, it's not.
Previously, these groups argued against measles or flu vaccine mandates by focusing on the right to choose.
Now, the push is in directly convincing people not to get the shot or not to let their kids get it.
"This time, it's a totally different story," Palma said. "I'm telling people don't take this thing. It's poison. It could kill you."
That change in message should worry us, as the region remains in the pandemic's grasp. So, here's a request. To our doctors, community and political leaders, friends, family and colleagues: Step up, now. Speak about your own vaccine experience, its safety and why others should trust it. And if you haven't gotten the vaccine, please get it. It will not kill you. But COVID could.
And I, for one, am not lying to you.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.