Anti-vax rally in Lenexa draws sharp criticisms

An anti-vaccination group is planning a "freedom rally " today in Lenexa with 16 sponsors and political figure Kris Kobach among speakers who typically downplay the pandemic and sow disbelief in the safety and efficacy of vaccines.


State News

September 20, 2021 - 8:30 AM

Physicians are working to combat misinformation dispersed by Kansans for Health Freedom and other groups about the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, which help prevent serious illness and death from the virus. Photo by (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A prominent anti-vaccination group has planned a “freedom rally” for today in Lenexa with the sponsorship of a nursing agency, midwifery, dental office, chiropractors, pharmacies and businesses that promote the healing properties of elderberries, tea biotics, red light therapy, hemp and gluten-free baked goods.

Kansans for Health Freedom identified 16 “professional partners” in emails to its followers in advance of the annual all-day rally. An $89 ticket gains entry to a church where political figure Kris Kobach will join a stable of speakers with a history of downplaying the pandemic and sowing disbelief in the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

The lineup includes a street preacher from Alberta, Canada; a pastor-physician from Houston who attributes some health failings to aliens and witches; and an Ohio attorney known for filing incomprehensible lawsuits based on dubious claims about COVID-19.

This misinformation conclave coincides with a surge in hospitalizations and deaths caused by the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 and individuals who refuse a free, safe and effective vaccine. The surge has overwhelmed hospitals, jeopardizing vaccinated residents who need treatment for conditions not related to the virus.

State officials reported 308 deaths from COVID-19 between Sept. 1 and Friday. Just 59.4% of eligible Kansans are fully vaccinated.

Physicians who spread lies about the virus risk losing their medical license. Different standards may apply to other types of medical professionals, like the ones who sponsor Kansans for Health Freedom.

None of the sponsors responded to emails from Kansas Reflector asking questions for this story. 

“Most likely these providers aren’t those that are in the trenches every day seeing dying patients,” said Dena Hubbard, a neonatologist and board member of the Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“They aren’t in ICU with patients begging their families by facetime or video to get the vaccine before they get intubated and will likely die, wishing they had gotten theirs but it’s too late,” Hubbard said. “They aren’t caring for the pregnant mom on the ventilator in the ICU. They aren’t discharging premature infants to a home with a mother that died from COVID.”

Jennifer Bacani McKenney, a Fredonia physician who serves as the Wilson County health officer, said Kansans for Health Freedom and its sponsors are hurting Kansans.

Last year, she said, “we were all scared together and just tried our best.” This year, there are vaccines. But physicians aren’t just fighting the virus anymore — “we’re fighting misinformation and anti-vaxers and ivermectin, conspiracy theories, and all this stuff.”

“It’s not OK to spread misinformation,” Bacani McKenney said. “It’s not OK to sponsor people who are spreading misinformation, whether you’re a business or whether you’re somebody on social media. It’s not OK. That’s my message to the businesses: It’s not OK. You’re hurting people. And you’re killing people by supporting groups like this that are anti-vax, that are doing things that do directly hurt Kansans and hurt our friends and family members and neighbors.”

Kansans for Health Freedom identifies itself as a nonprofit, grassroots organization promoting parental rights and religious freedom, using a name and language nearly identical to groups in other states. In its new Truth to Freedom podcast, the group says it was formed by three “praying grandmothers” in 2019.

Each episode of the podcast concludes with this notice: “This podcast is for informational purposes only and is not to be used as medical advice.”

The group has lobbied at the Statehouse for changes in state law that would strip the health secretary of the ability to require certain vaccines for school children. Another proposal would have banned the use of vaccine passports.