It took the top health official in Orange County, Calif., a few seconds to process a lawmaker’s bizarre question during a Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting to discuss “vaccine passports.”
“In the vaccine, we heard about an injection of the tracking device,” Republican Supervisor Don P. Wagner said. “Is that being done anywhere in Orange County?”
Clayton Chau, the county’s health-care agency director, could not hold back his shocked laughter.
“I’m sorry. I just have to compose myself,” Chau said moments later. “There’s not a vaccine with a tracking device embedded in it that I know of exists in the world. Period.”
The clip quickly went viral, with critics piling on and accusing Wagner of spreading vaccine misinformation in a public meeting.
“Dear @DonWagnerCA, there is no tracking device in the #COVID19 vaccine,” tweeted Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist with the Federation of American Scientists. “Stop peddling conspiracies. You know you asked it in a conspiracy-deranged manner.”
But the legislator fiercely defended his question, insisting that he brought up the question on behalf of constituents who “made wild charges” about the vaccines, including a false claim that there are “microchips” in the shots.
“I led Dr. Chau through those charges and to have him debunk them,” Wagner said in an email to The Washington Post. “I knew they are not true but wanted the public to hear that directly from Dr. Chau. I got exactly the response from Dr. Chau I expected, with the same laugh at the absurdity of the charges that they deserve.”
The viral exchange comes as Orange County confronts a wave of fierce vaccine skepticism, including at a Board of Supervisors two weeks ago that drew hundreds protesting the possible use of electronic vaccination records. A little more than a million county residents have been fully vaccinated.
The incident also arrives as a significant number of Republicans continue to resist the vaccines. Although more than half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, more than 40 percent of Republicans have consistently told pollsters they’re not planning to be vaccinated.
Tuesday’s meeting was marked by a wave of protesters who flocked to the room to object to vaccines and mask rules. The group also protested the idea of vaccine passports.
Wagner, a practicing attorney and former mayor of Irvine, was elected in 2019 to represent nearly 600,000 residents of counties including Anaheim Hills, Irvine, Orange, among others. Wagner said his intent was to disprove misinformation, not spread it.