Opponents of COVID vaccine mandates rally outside Minnesota Capitol

Rally against vaccine mandates at the State Capitol
People wave flags during a rally against COVID-19 vaccine and face covering mandates outside the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

A crowd of people opposed to mandates for COVID-19 vaccines and face coverings rallied Saturday outside the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul.

Hundreds of people — perhaps as many as several thousand — gathered for what organizers called a "medical freedom" rally.

Rally against vaccine mandates at the State Capitol
People look on during a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Those in attendance stood shoulder to shoulder without masks, listening to speakers including several Republican elected officials.

Many in the crowd held up signs decrying vaccines, masks and mandates from employers.

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"A lot of us are not comfortable with how fast this this vaccine came out. And we want more information before we put it in our bodies. Once it's in you can't take it out," said nurse Leah Cathey, who lives near Kimball in central Minnesota.

Cathey said she wanted state lawmakers to stop vaccination mandates, and allow accommodations for people who don't want to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I think everybody's kind of holding their ground and hoping that something changes before the end of the year," she said.

Many health care providers in the state have said they're requiring staff to be vaccinated, with limited exemptions, with a variety of deadlines in the coming months.

Former state senator and current GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen said he believed health officials were not telling the truth about vaccines and said fencing recently erected at the Capitol showed officials feared vaccine opponents.

The fencing went up ahead of several events in recent days, including Saturday's rally as well as a protest against the Line 3 oil pipeline on Wednesday.

"Fifteen months ago, when the riots were happening in Minneapolis, there was no reason to put a fence around the 3rd Precinct. It was just a building. But when you folks come out, we've got to put a fence around the Capitol, because you're just too dangerous," Jensen told the crowd Saturday.

Rally against vaccine mandates at the State Capitol
Dr. Scott Jensen, a Republican candidate in the 2022 Minnesota governor's race, speaks during a rally against COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside the State Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

He urged the crowd to keep resisting.

"You need today to commit to staying a member of the dangerous club," he said. "And then you have to ask yourself, what must we do? What we must do is we need to be as dangerous as we can be."

Republican state Sen. Jim Abeler of Anoka told the crowd that he's planning an effort to oust Democratic Gov. Tim Walz's health commissioner, Jan Malcolm.

Rally attendee Nancy Schwartz from Inver Grove Heights said she won't consider getting vaccinated.

She said she was concerned about mask mandates and other COVID-19 precautions at schools as the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus circulates in Minnesota.

Schwartz said she didn't think COVID-19 was as dangerous to her family as vaccines.

"There's COVID, it might be a little bit more dangerous for some people. There are treatments available, and we feel confident that we have our health and we can overcome it," she said.

Gov. Tim Walz disputed that during a visit to the state fair earlier Saturday.

"The science is solid behind this," he said of COVID-19 vaccines. "These vaccines have now been given over a billion times. They are incredibly safe. The delta variant is dangerous, and the more people that get vaccinated, the more things like the State Fair we can do."

A spokesperson for Walz said more than 400 people had gotten COVID-19 vaccine shots during the first two days of the fair.

At last report on Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health said nearly 3.3 million state residents have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That's close to 60 percent of the state's total population, and more than 70 percent of Minnesota's vaccine-eligible 12-and-older residents.