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At least 1,000 people gathered in Salem on Saturday, Sept. 18, for a rally decrying requirements to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - A large crowd, numbering more than 1,000, gathered outside the Oregon State Capitol for a medical freedom rally on Saturday, Sept. 18. "My body — my choice."

That slogan, co-opted from the movement supporting access to abortion, was one of many deployed outside the Oregon State Capitol building in Salem as a large crowd gathered to oppose requirements that people get the jab that protects against the novel coronavirus.

Despite the dreary forecast, a crowd numbering at least 1,000 congregated at the heart of state government for a rally on Saturday, Sept. 18.

Luke Yamaguchi, an Albany nutritionist who serves on the board of the protest sponsor, Oregonians for Medical Freedom, slammed Gov. Kate Brown's mask mandate for school children and in outdoor public spaces — drawing jeers and laughs from the unmasked assembly.

"Mandated medicine has no place in a free country," said Yamaguchi. "Who is to say that you will necessarily agree with the next vaccine that is mandated?"

Gov. Brown has issued an inoculation directive to all state health care workers and public school employees. Only a few local governments, including the cities of Portland, Tigard and Multnomah County, have followed suit and ordered their employees to be vaccinated, though police officers are not included in the order due to a legal exemption.

Opt-outs are also available on a medical or religious basis.

President Joe Biden has ordered all companies with 100 or more employees to require workers get the shot or a clean weekly test result — but the actual policy, which will cover some 80 million workers, hasn't been released by the Occupational Health & Safety Administration yet. SUBMITTED - Supporters of the nonprofit Oregonians for Medical Freedom mobilized at the Oregon State Capitol for a protest on Saturday, Sept. 18.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, the anti-COVID 19 shot is safe for everyone and the best way to protect the community by creating herd immunity. After an alarming, six-week-long rise in hospitalizations that strained medical center capacity across the state, delta variant cases have now "stabilized" and statistical models predict a gradual decline overall, the health agency reported Sept. 16.

"Our ability to sustain this hopeful progress and ultimately regain the upper hand over the coming weeks is dependent upon getting more Oregonians vaccinated, and on all of us continuing to wear masks when in indoor public spaces, when we're outdoors among crowds, and reconsidering plans that put us or others at higher risk of getting COVID-19," said state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger.

Some 77.3% of Oregonians are partially or fully vaccinated, according to the Oregonian, while holdouts make up an "overwhelming majority of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Oregon," per the health authority.

Evidently, the crowd in Salem wasn't convinced.

Wearing a hat reading, "Shoot your local pedophile," anti-vax activist Maddie Nighswonger said she was kicked off several sports teams and spurred an evacuation after she refused to wear a mask inside her Myrtle Point public school. She now attends a home school.

"We stand up for our God-given rights that we all have that that Nazi is trying to take away from us," she said, referring to Gov. Brown. "She doesn't know what's coming … because this is our country, and we need to take it back."

Signs and banners at the protest made that message clear: "No jabs for jobs," read one. "Do not comply," read another.

The crowd was composed largely of families, and no law enforcement presence was immediately visible. A few attendees carried weapons and some wore the black-and-yellow colors of the right-wing Proud Boys.


Zane Sparling
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