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GOP candidate for Illinois governor Gary Rabine incorrectly says COVID vaccines are responsible for thousands of deaths

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Gary Rabine - File photo

Gary Rabine, a Republican candidate for Illinois governor, speaks with the Tribune on March 30, 2021, in Schaumburg.

A Republican candidate for Illinois governor said in a weekend TV interview that he would not encourage people to get a COVID-19 vaccination, incorrectly saying the shots were not FDA-approved and had caused thousands of deaths.

Gary Rabine, a Bull Valley businessman and ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump and conservative causes, said he was not an “anti-vaxxer by any stretch.” But he criticized private businesses and public institutions mandating “these vaccines that are not FDA-approved, it’s crazy.”

Vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson all have received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and experts expect the vaccines will gain full FDA approval in coming weeks after research on their use among millions of people is completed.

Rabine made the comments in an interview Sunday on Nexstar Media Group’s “Capitol Connection.” Host Mark Maxwell had to correct the candidate on several occasions and clarify Rabine’s misstatements for viewers.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker made his handling of the pandemic the front-and-center issue in launching his reelection campaign last week. Rabine and the two other announced GOP contenders — state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo — opposed Pritzker’s phased mitigation efforts, which included business shutdowns.

State Sen. Darren Bailey campaigns at Rader Family Farms in Normal. The GOP lawmaker is running for governor. 

Rabine said in the interview with Maxwell that he believed Pritzker was counting on federal “bailouts” for individuals and businesses that would “make everybody forget about the environment, the lack of freedom that he put us all in.”

Asked what he would tell people who have not received their COVID-19 vaccinations, Rabine said, “I’m telling them it’s a free country.

“If they feel that their health and that of their family and their community requires vaccination, it’s a free country. Go get it.

“If they feel that it’s not a benefit to them and vaccinating with a vaccination that’s not FDA-approved — that if it was FDA-approved would have been taken off the shelf about 5,000 or 6,000 deaths ago — if they feel that that’s not in their safety and that, you know, it’s not good for their health, then it’s a free country,” he said. “They should not have to take it.”

This month, JAMA reported that there have been three deaths attributable to vaccinations in the U.S. All of the deaths were linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and involved a rare form of blood clots that doctors now know how to treat. More than 339 million doses of a vaccine had been given to 187.2 million people in the U.S. as of July 19.

On July 21, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had received 6,207 reports of people who had died after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine between Dec. 14, 2020, and July 19, 2021. But the CDC noted that the FDA requires health care providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination, even if it’s not clear whether the vaccine was the cause.

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System was created by federal health authorities to examine possible side effects among the vaccinated, but anyone can submit a report. “Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem,” the CDC said.

After the interview, Maxwell wrote in a story for his station that he received a voicemail from Rabine’s spokesman, Travis Akin, who sought to retract the candidate’s claims of thousands of deaths directly attributable to vaccines. “I think we are walking that back,” Akin said, according to Maxwell’s story.

On Monday, Akin confirmed that he told Maxwell the campaign was walking back Rabine’s comments about vaccines causing deaths.

“We’re saying that they could be (due to the vaccine) but that we should take a look at it and using due diligence to follow up,” Akin said. “We want to be factual, and the sourcing that we used just presented a number and didn’t definitively say they were vaccine-related deaths.”

States are reporting increasing COVID-19 deaths among the unvaccinated, including preliminary reports showing 99.5% of people who died due to COVID-19 in Texas from Feb. 8 to July 14 were unvaccinated. Rabine was asked if such deaths were preventable.

“I can’t tell you if they are. All I can tell you is the stuff, the data I’m getting, shows that there’s been anywhere from 5,900 deaths attributed to this to 8,000, right? What the real number is, I don’t know,” Rabine said.

Asked if he was suggesting that the vaccine was killing people, Rabine said, “I’m suggesting that after taking the vaccine, within a short period of time, people died for no other reason that they can say.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, called on Americans to get vaccinated during a speech on the Senate floor Monday. "The vaccines that we all have access to right now will stop the Delta variant in its tracks," he said. "It will save your life."

Though Rabine was not asked if he had been vaccinated in the interview, Akin said Monday that the candidate previously had COVID-19, “so since he has the antibodies, he has decided not to get the vaccine.”

According to guidance from the CDC, people should be vaccinated regardless of whether they have had COVID-19 in the past. The CDC said experts do not know how long unvaccinated people are protected from getting sick again once they’ve had COVID-19.

Rabine also again refused to reject Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, echoing comments he made to the Tribune when he announced his candidacy in March.

“I don’t claim and will never claim that I’m an expert enough to understand how many votes were stolen,” he said.

He later added he had not seen any evidence of vote fraud, “but if it was one, two or 10,000, boy that should be investigated thoroughly.”


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