The Missouri Capitol building in Jefferson City.
While the delta variant fills Missouri hospitals with unvaccinated patients, some of the state's political leaders remain invested in anti-mask and anti-vaccine misinformation — so much so that two Republican state lawmakers members were willing to troll their colleagues in reply-all email thread sent to every House member and staff this week.
According to screenshots of the thread, the inciting email arrived in House inboxes on August 9, at 2:30 p.m. The message announced a "COVID-19 Vaccination Event" hosted by the Hy-Vee supermarket chain
to take place at the Capitol later in the week.
Sent by a House human resources employee, the email amounted to fewer than 60 words of text, a flyer and a link to online registration.
But that was enough for Representative Brian Seitz, of Branson, to divebomb the announcement to encourage the very sort of vaccine paranoia that's put Missouri into the center of the latest wave of infections.
Seitz wrote: "As we see more 'vaccinated' people GETTING the virus (upper respiratory viruses which this is, are prevalent in the Winter months, not Summer) I hope that we are not actually creating and extending the problem."
While it's true that some vaccinated people experience "breakthrough" COVID infections, vaccines are still shown to prevent serious illness and death
. Seitz's district includes Taney County, where just 30 percent of the population is vaccinated.
Seitz concluded his contribution to the reply-all thread with a quip: "Government should stay out of the jab business."
It was that parting shot that got to Representative Peter Merideth. Copied on the email, the Democrat from St. Louis took screenshots of the ensuing thread, posting several of the images publicly through his Facebook account later that day.
"It's not that often that a representative replies-all to any house-wide email," Merideth tells the RFT
, explaining that what was unusual, and worth sharing publicly on Facebook
, was Seitz's argument that the government shouldn't be involved with vaccination efforts at all.
"It definitely struck a chord," Merideth says.
About two hours after the Republican lawmaker first hijacked the thread to complain about a vaccine event, Representative Keri Ingle, a Democrat from Lee's Summit near Kansas City, shot back with her own pointed rebuttal.
Her reply began, "Hey Dr. Seitz." (Before winning his seat in 2020
, Seitz's resume included roles as a local pastor and car wash manager. He is not a doctor.)
Ingle's email continued: "Didn't they teach you not to reply all in med school? Thanks for the unsolicited opinions, I'll stick with the medical professionals and scientists. Promoting public health and the general welfare is quite explicitly the job of the government."
Ingle ended her retort with a suggestion that the lawmakers, "Join in prayer for our sick friends and loved ones, and support the medical professionals who are fighting this."
But as with any online discussion, when a thread becomes a dumpster fire, it tends to keep burning.
Four minutes after Igle's response to Seitz, a second recently elected Republican, Representative Justin Hill of Lake St. Louis — who had proudly skipped his own January 6 swearing-in ceremony to join the Stop the Steal rally in Washington, D.C. — added another layer of to the reply-all pileup.
"And let's pray for my two family members that have enlarged hearts from the vaccine," Hill wrote, adding, "Can we please refrain from debates on House email?"
Three days prior, Hill had made a similar claim in a Facebook post while criticizing Missouri's new vaccine lottery program, writing that he knew "three people with enlarged hearts after taking it." However, as of August 6, the CDC and FDA have confirmed just 730 reports
of myocarditis and pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart, mostly in people who took the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. With 153,000,000 people fully vaccinated with Moderna or Pfizer, the incidence of enlarged hearts is roughly .0000047572 percent, or about 4.7 cases of heart inflammation per million vaccinated people.
Back in the reply-all thread, Seitz returned for a second helping of anti-vaccine arguments, while also confirming that, yes, he had purposely replied-all to the initial email so he could grandstand about a vaccine event being organized by a private company. He thanked Hill for his contribution to the discourse and again mocked the notion that the government has a role in public health, writing:
"When government becomes involved, it usually screws things up. If people want a jab (or a mask or distance or eat turnips) it's up to them. Freedom and liberties are what we are here to protect. Period."
In late July, protesters opposing an vaccine mandate on employees gather outside Mercy Hospital St. Louis. One holds up a sign comparing the mandate to the policies of the Nazis.
For Merideth, the reply-all exchange had all the hallmarks of the same partisan divides he's witnessed many times in the Missouri legislature, from evolution to abortion to the 2020 election. But for lawmakers to insist that they had no role in vaccinations, even to the degree of sending out an email announcement or hosting an event in the Capitol — that was something new.
"Our political leaders are pushing people actively against fairly basic government efforts and public health efforts. I've never seen that," he says.
"It's like the government telling you, 'Smoking is bad,' and then an official saying 'That's a myth, smoking is good, and I'm going to award a business that's actually defying that.'"
Indeed, that is a fairly close metaphor for the actual role Seitz plays in his district. One day before the reply-all email thread, Seitz had posted a video of himself to Facebook showing him awarding a "Champion of Freedom" award to a Branson barbershop that had defied a local mask mandate.
This also isn't the first time Seitz's view of the government's role in public life has drawn scrutiny from a St. Louis-area lawmaker. On July 7, Ian Mackey, a Democrat from St. Louis County, posted screenshots of comments
between Seitz and fellow House Republican Bill Kidd.
In the post, Kidd had announced that he tested positive for COVID-19. Seitz had jumped into the thread as well, taking the opportunity to claim that, along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Dr. Anthony Fauci had spent years "involved with the development of various COVID strains" and that "both men knew what was coming and prepared responses to the event."
Kidd, meanwhile, wrote that he was looking for a source of the horse-dewormer Ivermectin, which does not treat COVID and which the FDA warns "can cause serious harm."
Kidd also disclosed that he was self-medicating with tonic water mixed with quinine, which, again, does not treat COVID.
In another reply, Kidd responded to a commenter who asked whether he was vaccinated.
"Heck no," Kidd wrote. "We're Republicans. Lol."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]
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