CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming Department of Health official involved in the state’s response to the coronavirus questioned the legitimacy of the pandemic and described a forthcoming vaccine as a biological weapon at a recent event.
The “so-called pandemic” and efforts to develop a vaccine are plots by Russia and China to spread communism worldwide, department readiness and countermeasures manager Igor Shepherd said at the Nov. 10 event held by the group Keep Colorado Free and Open.
Shepherd was introduced as and talked about being a Wyoming Department of Health employee in the over hour-long presentation in Loveland, Colorado.
Shepherd’s baseless and unsubstantiated claims undermined Wyoming’s public health measures — and public exhortations — to limit spread of the virus, as well as its plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the months ahead.
Even so, Wyoming officials including Gov. Mark Gordon, who at a recent news conference called people not taking the virus seriously “knuckleheads,” declined to comment.
Department Director Mike Ceballos and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist did not answer questions Friday from The Associated Press, including when they became aware of Shepherd’s talk and what if anything they have done in response.
Phone and social media messages left for Shepherd on Friday weren’t returned.
He has worked for the health department since 2013 and has been a part of the state’s team responding to COVID-19, though not in a leadership role, department spokeswoman Kim Deti said.
“All of the things we’ve said for months and the thousands of hours of dedicated work from our staff and our local partners on this response effort and our excitement for the hope the vaccine offers make our overall department position on the pandemic clear,” Deti said in identical statements Thursday to the Casper Star-Tribune, which first reported Shepherd’s presentation, and the AP on Friday.
Researchers have worried for months that politicized skepticism of COVID-19 vaccines could hurt their efficacy. Vaccines are more effective if most of the population is inoculated.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Texas State University wrote a paper in July stressing that concern, the Star-Tribune reported.
“If poorly designed and executed, a Covid-19 vaccination campaign in the U.S. could undermine the increasingly tenuous belief in vaccines and the public health authorities that recommend them — especially among people most at risk of Covid-19 impacts,” the researchers wrote.