The Galveston County Health District is arranging for extra security at its COVID-19 vaccination events after a group of protesters showed up during a weekend inoculation drive in Friendswood.
Medical staff members, meanwhile, have been instructed to remove their photo-identification badges during inoculation events for fear they’ll be tracked down and harassed at home, officials said.
There are differing views among county health officials, school district officials and police about whether the protesters were threatening or merely rude.
Health district employees raised safety concerns after about a dozen people showed up outside a Friendswood ISD building Saturday to stage an anti-vaccination protest, Galveston County Local Health Authority Dr. Philip Keiser said.
The group was protesting against parents having their children inoculated with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Federal authorities earlier this month approved the vaccine for children ages 5 through 11.
Protesters yelled and approached medical staff members, parents and children as they were entering the vaccine clinic, Keiser said. Eventually, a parent called police about the behavior of the protesters.
“They initially were quiet and respectful,” Keiser said. “But as time went on, more people started showing up. They were getting loud; they were interfering with peoples’ entry and egress from the building.
“They were calling parents child murderers in front of little children and getting more aggressive,” he said.
Friendswood Independent School District spokeswoman Dayna Owen and Friendswood Police Chief Robert Wieners confirmed police were called to the school Friday but described the incident in less dire terms than Keiser.
“We responded over there long enough to where the folks over there knew what the ground rules were and to go ahead and make sure there wasn’t anything threatening going on,” Wieners said. “We didn’t observe any threatening behavior.”
Owen said the protesters weren’t breaking any district rules.
“They were shouting some things that weren’t threatening but were pretty rude, like, ‘Do you know children can die from the vaccine,’ that sort of thing, which, unfortunately, they have the right to say,” Owen said.
There’s no evidence COVID vaccines are killing children. The vaccines have been declared safe to use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after reviewing the results of clinical trials.
Vaccine skeptics often use reports from a database called the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event System to make claims about the risks of COVID vaccines.
Anyone can submit claims about vaccine side effects to the system, however, and the CDC said reports in the system “may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”
Keiser said the clinic closed early because of the protesters. Owen, however, said her understanding was the clinic closed earlier than planned because people stopped showing up.
Keiser said he believed Friendswood officials were downplaying the disturbance caused by the protesters.
“From what I’ve heard from my nurses and what I’ve heard from the police department, we have very different views about what happened,” Keiser said. He said he was disappointed the police didn’t stay at the clinic after they were called about the protesters.
Keiser said he believed such protests were a reaction to federal vaccine mandates. He pointed out there are no mandates for young children to be vaccinated and that parents or guardians alone were deciding whether children are inoculated.
The Friendswood protest was one of only two incidents in which protesters interrupted vaccination efforts in Galveston County. Vaccinations began in December 2020.
In the only other incident Keiser could remember, a protester in line at the drive-through vaccination hub in Texas City berated staff members, he said.
It’s not clear who the Saturday protesters were. Keiser and Wieners said they thought the people were county residents, based on social media posts they saw about the event.
No one was harmed or arrested during the protest, and no police complaints were filed, officials said.
For the foreseeable future, the health district is asking law enforcement to be at the clinics and will cover windows at the clinics to protect patients’ and staff members’ privacy, Keiser said.
Medical staff members have been told to stop wearing badges with identifying information, over fear protesters were taking pictures in attempt to identify them.
Keiser said he worried the nurses would be harassed at home, not that they might be targets of violence.
About 188,900 people in Galveston County, about 53 percent of the county population, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. At least 1,800 children from ages 5 through 11 have started a course of vaccinations, according to state data.
The school district will continue to host vaccination clinics in the future, Owen said.