Jensen goes full reckless in choice of running mate Birk | Opinion

March 17, 2022 6:00 am

State Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, has given voice to claims some medical experts say are conspiracy theories. He appeared on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.

Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, who is the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee for governor, made his first major decision by picking Matt Birk to be his running mate. 

Birk is a former professional football player and an outspoken conservative who publicly advocated in 2012 for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. 

Birk has also been an outspoken skeptic of the severity of COVID-19. 

As the Delta variant was ripping through a broad swath of the country in September, he made this astute observation

“Per the @nytimes today, 0.6 deaths per 100,000 people in the United States of America. OR, 6 people per 1,000,000.”

Either he failed to do the next step in the math problem, or he’s unbelievably callous, because that’s nearly 2,000 people who died from COVID-19 in a single day, likely making it the leading cause of death. 

Heart disease, which can refer to different heart conditions, kills about 1,900 per day. Imagine if heart disease were contagious, and then imagine someone saying it isn’t a problem in America. 

This was 10 months after Birk announced he would not be getting vaccinated, loudly proclaiming that he knew better than the nation’s leading doctors and scientists. 

We are two years into the pandemic, and the toll of death and suffering is staggering, as recently detailed by science journalist Ed Yong

American life expectancy declined two full years, the greatest decline since the Spanish flu pandemic, largely a function of all the people who died who were younger than 60. 

About 1 million more Americans died during the past two years than we would have expected based on mortality rates of the five years previous.

What’s Jensen’s response? Make a full-on COVID denier and anti-vaxxer his running mate. 

We should not be totally surprised. 

Jensen has used his status as a family doctor to fuel his political ambitions. He’s chased social media clicks and won invitations to cable news and radio shows, where he’s polluted the airwaves. 

In the early days of the pandemic, he called it a “mild four-day respiratory illness which poses little risk to more than 95% of people.”

By June 2021, about 600,000 Americans had died from causes related to COVID-19. 

Like a drunk who gets cut off at one bar only to visit another, Jensen began spouting nonsense about vaccines. 

Wearing his white doctor’s coat, he spoke about vaccines as if they were more dangerous than the virus itself:  

“This thing is blooming, exploding. We have thousands and thousands of deaths reported through the VAERs program that indicate there is a strong, temporal association between the vaccine and death, especially in kids,” he said, referring to the government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. 

Sounds scary. Jensen even put his name on a lawsuit, which he acknowledged he had not completely read, which sought to stop 12-15 year olds from getting vaccinated and compared it to Nazi experimentation on Jews. 

Were these true claims about the dangers of the vaccines? Of course not. The tell is in this slippery language: “Strong temporal association,” which is a fancy way of saying some people who took the vaccine later died. Sure, but did the vaccine kill them?

There’s a disclaimer on the VAERs website — which allows anyone to self-report an adverse reaction to a vaccine — telling you not to draw this conclusion: “The inclusion of events in VAERS data does not imply causality.” 

Fast forward a year, and it turns out that the vaccines are safe. 

Between December 2020 and June 2021, nearly 300 million doses of mRNA were administered. 

In the medical journal The Lancet, Drs. Elizabeth J. Phillips and Matthew Krantz of Vanderbilt University write: “Although approximately one in 1,000 individuals vaccinated may have an adverse effect, most of these are non-serious. No unusual patterns emerged in the cause of death or serious adverse effects among VAERS reports.” 

Moreover, they write, “The safety monitoring of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines stands out as the most comprehensive of any vaccine in U.S. history.”

Thanks to the burgeoning anti-vaccine movement — and opportunists like Jensen who have exploited some Americans’ naivete for attention and dollars — we’ve lagged behind other rich countries in vaccination and boosting rates, and our deaths continue to climb. 

Doctors, nurses and other health care workers persevere and grind it out. They say they have never encountered so much death. And, unlike at any time in their professional lives, they often acted as emotional support caregivers because their patients could not have visitors. 

Early in the pandemic, Jensen launched a scurrilous smear against these health care colleagues, claiming they were inflating COVID-19 data to get more money from the Medicare program. For that gem, he won a coveted spot in Politifact’s “Lie of the year.”  

State Sen. Matt Klein, who is a Mayo physician, served with Jensen in the Legislature, and at one time they had a good bipartisan working relationship. 

No longer. 

“His work on the greatest medical issue of our lifetimes has been medically wrong, deeply unethical, and has led directly to the death of Minnesotans,” Klein, a Democrat, told me. 

Look: The world is full of cranks. For that matter, the medical profession — like every profession — is filled with them. 

But spouting off on your website is a different thing altogether from leading Minnesota’s government, which requires prudence, intellectual humility and the balancing of risks and difficult policy tradeoffs.

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children