Trump-backed Republican, eyeing bid for Pennsylvania governor’s office, falsely suggests COVID-19 vaccines are not true vaccines

Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano smiles in a suit
Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin.
  • Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano was first elected in a 2019 special election.
  • His 33rd state senate district is located in the south-central part of the state.
  • He was reelected in 2020 with 68.6% of the vote. He says Pennsylvania's election that year was fraudulent.

A Pennsylvania Republican who tried to block his state's votes from being counted in the 2020 election held a fundraiser at a church on Thursday at which he mocked the notion of "herd immunity" and falsely suggested the vaccines against COVID-19 are not really vaccines at all.

At a political fundraiser hosted by the tax-exempt, evangelical Time Ministries Church in central Pennsylvania, Mastriano appeared to gear up for a potential run for governor in 2022, having previously claimed that former President Donald Trump personally asked him to do so. His remarks, aired live on Facebook, touched on opposition to vaccine mandates - a bill he introduced prohibits requiring any immunization - and rehashing claims that the 2020 election stolen.

"So now the healthcare workers, you're in a bad spot there," Mastriano said, blasting "Joe Biden's edicts" that "you need to get the shot."

"I guess I shouldn't call it a 'vaccine,'" Mastriano continued, a reference to false claims and disinformation that mRNA vaccines, such as the ones from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are not true vaccines because they rely on a new medical technology to spur antibody production. The inoculation from Johnson & Johnson is a more traditional vector vaccine.

The vaccines, one of which has full FDA approval (Pfizer), and two others that have FDA emergency authorization (Moderna and J&J), are safe and effective at staving off severe cases of COVID-19, per Johns Hopkins.

rates of covid 19 cases chart, showing far higher rates for unvaccinated, but among vaccinated: j&j highest and moderna lowest

Mastriano, who also campaigned against mask-wearing and other public health measures during the pandemic, was himself infected with COVID-19 last year, learning of his positive test during a post-election meeting with Trump at the White House.

"And who ever heard this idea that you need to get the shot to protect other people?" Mastriano asked the small audience at the church. "You know when I was deployed overseas, and then you get all of these things shoved into your body, like any veteran does, it's not there to protect the Afghans or Iraqis, it protects you. This is not even reasonable or logical," he said.

Despite Mastriano's suggestion that the benefits of mass inoculation are a novel argument for the COVID-19 vaccines, it is a basic tenet of modern immunology and a reason why, for example, schools in Pennsylvania require all students to be vaccinated against diseases such as polio, with few exemptions for medical and religious reasons.

As the Defense Department's Military Health System explains, "When a vaccine is given to a significant portion of the population, it protects those who receive the vaccine as well as those who cannot receive the vaccine. This concept is called 'herd immunity.' When a high percentage of the population is vaccinated and immune to a disease, they do not get sick - so there is no one to spread the disease to others."

Vaccines provide significant protection against infection, though there are sometimes breakthrough infections. That is why the military and schools have mandated many vaccines: to limit the chance that an unvaccinated person - far more likely to be carrying a virus - is in a position to test a vaccinated person's immunity and cause a breakthrough case.

Flyer for event with Doug Mastriano.
Time Ministries Church encouraged attendees to donate to state Sen. Doug Mastriano's political campaign.

At Thursday's fundraiser, the state senator also pushed false claims about the 2020 election. Although Pennsylvania Republicans actually passed a ballot measure this year, limiting Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's ability to issue public health orders during a pandemic, Mastriano insisted the state's elections are fraudulent, citing a debunked story about ballots being trucked in from New York reiterating his demand for a "forensic audit" like that carried out in Maricopa County, Arizona, which he witnessed over the summer.

"They had magnifying glasses on one of the machines, they could tell - apparently photocopies are pixelated…. it's very clear that's a compromised ballot," he claimed.

But the partisan review in Arizona, commissioned by the state's Republicans, did not find any such "compromised ballots," despite being led by a group, Cyber Ninjas, that was committed to finding them. A third-party review of results in Pennsylvania's Fulton County, pushed by Mastriano, likewise found no evidence of fraud.

Mastriano is no stranger to making inaccurate and incendiary claims about the last presidential election, a fact that has won him support from the loser of the contest.

As detailed in the interim staff report from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mastriano - who was outside the US Capitol during the January 6 insurrection, and chartered buses to bring protesters to Washington - last year urged acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue to investigate a slew of readily debunked claims of fraud.

For example, the state senator claimed more votes had been cast than there were voters in Pennsylvania, an assertion that failed to account for residents from Philadelphia, among other counties. Mastriano also took part in hearings organized by Rudy Giuliani, supporting the Trump campaign's efforts to have Pennsylvania's election results invalidated.

But Mastriano's event on Thursday ended - at least online - not with talk of election fraud but with a question from the audience about his opposition to vaccine requirements. When a woman asked about the status of that effort in the state legislature, Mastriano made sure no one at home could hear his response.

"Kill my live feed back there," he told an aide.

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