Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director nominee Don Kauerauf says he is against mask and COVID vaccine mandates, but was protested against Monday.
Anti-vaccination protestors pushed for state lawmakers to vote down Kauerauf’s confirmation outside of the state Capitol hearing room, according to St. Louis Public Radio. There were at least 100 protestors, The Associated Press reported.
Senators questioned Kauerauf for almost two hours about his views on curbing the spread of COVID, his prior comments about vaccination, and his stance on abortion. The blowback prompted Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) to put out a statement defending Kauerauf after he was pushed in the Senate chamber where 24 of 34 members are Republicans.
While Kauerauf, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services since September 2021, has repeatedly said he is against government mask or COVID vaccine mandates, he has also said that Missouri’s vaccination rate is “atrocious” and he wishes more people would get the vaccine, according to the AP.
“There are people that disagree with vaccinations. I respect that. That is their choice to make that. And I don’t have any problems with that whatsoever,” Kauerauf said, the St. Louis Public Radio reported. “…I just have to go to bed knowing that we did every attempt we could to provide them with factual information.”
Kauerauf, whose appointment is subject to state Senate confirmation, told senators that he hopes for a vaccination rate closer to 75 percent for eligible individuals, according to the AP. Currently, less than 59 percent of eligible Missouri residents, consisting of those age 5 and older, are fully vaccinated, state health department data shows.
Some protestors chanted when doors were opened to let people in and out of the Senate Lounge, The Missouri Times reported. Some held signs that read “God-given natural immunity” and “We’re not guinea pigs,” according to the St. Louis Public Radio.
One protestor, Deborah Wiersma, of Pacific, Missouri, said that she’s concerned Kauerauf and Gov. Mike Parson are advising testing, social distancing, masking, vaccinations even though they oppose mandates, the AP reported.
“I’m against all of it,” she told AP.
Kauerauf repeatedly told senators that instead of imposing vaccine or mask mandates and COVID regulations, he wants to educate people regarding the impacts of COVID and vaccines to increase the vaccination rate, according to The Missouri Times.
Parson’s statement tried to clear up what he called misinformation regarding Kauerauf’s confirmation hearing.
“To set the record straight, Don is strongly pro-life and anti-abortion and against government mandating mask wearing and COVID-19 vaccinations,” Parson said in the statement. “Those were his views and beliefs when I appointed him, and they remain today.”
Senators must approve Kauerauf’s nomination by the end of the week, the AP reported. If they don’t, he’ll be prevented from serving as health director.
Kauerauf succeeded Randall Williams as the state’s health czar in September 2021, after Williams left without publicly giving a reason, according to the AP.