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US Sen. Ron Johnson says COVID-19 conference call comments taken out of context

Senator continues to push misleading claims about vaccines

Sen. Ron Johnson is seen in front of a Wisconsin state flag at a press conference.
Sen. Ron Johnson sits with people from outside of Wisconsin who claim to have had adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines Monday, June 28, 2021, at the Milwaukee Federal Building in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Friday that comments he made earlier this week to an attorney who inaccurately claimed that COVID-19 vaccines cause AIDS were taken out of context.

On a Zoom conference call with Johnson Sunday that was later uploaded to the video website Rumble, Colorado attorney Todd Callender said “shots caused vaccine-induced AIDS.” There’s no medical evidence to back up that claim, but Johnson, in response, said “everything you say may be true.”

“Right now, the public views the vaccines as largely safe and effective,” he said on the conference call. “Until we get a larger percentage of the population with their eyes open to, ‘Whoa, these vaccine injuries are real, why?’ — you know, it’s gotta be step-by-step.”

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At an event in Milwaukee Friday, Johnson said the conversation was misreported.

“That was just a throwaway line, OK?” Johnson said. “I do not believe the vaccine gives AIDS. Never have. Never said that.”

Johnson said the conference call was supposed to be private, and he wasn’t aware it was being recorded.

On Tuesday, Johnson wrote on Twitter that he would continue to “fight for transparency.”

Johnson continues to spread misleading information about the vaccines. He said Friday the vaccines have “definitely caused injury.”

“I’m in no means an anti-vaxxer,” said Johnson, who in March of last year said he wasn’t planning on getting a COVID-19 vaccine. “I’m willing to change my approach based on real information.”

He cited a federal database that tracks health events that happen after vaccinations. As NPR previously reported, many of those events are coincidental, and the database doesn’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

“The deaths associated on the VAERS system with the COVID vaccine vastly outnumber anything we’ve ever seen with the flu vaccine,” Johnson claimed.

Last June, Johnson organized a roundtable where people who experienced side effects from COVID-19 vaccines were able to share their stories. The event received significant criticism from health care experts and public officials.

Johnson has claimed the vaccines are not completely safe and supported alleged COVID-19 treatments such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Health organizations do not support those assertions.

Disinformation about vaccines has run rampant during the pandemic. Serious side effects from COVID-19 vaccines are possible, but rare, according to the CDC.