CLAVERACK — The latest edition of a newsletter called “Vaxx Facts” is warning about a festival scheduled for this weekend in Claverack.
The festival has been advertised on the “Do We Need This” website and the Stand up Massachusetts website.
“Certainly there are many festivals, outdoor events that are going to be occurring as summer comes to a close,” local activist Michael Richardson said. “We have reason to believe that 70% of the people at any given event or festival will be vaccinated. That’s the number of people in the county that are vaccinated. This festival has the risk of being a super-spreader simply because none of the precautions are going to be taken.”
It is likely that many of the individuals at this festival will not be vaccinated, will not be masked and will not be practicing social distancing at this event, Richardson said.
Richard Harrison owns the property on Wenzels Lane where the online flyers advertise the festival, according to Columbia County records. Harrison said Monday they are holding a private gathering for friends and family this weekend and that it is not a public event. He had no other comments.
Two main areas are of concern with an event like this, human rights and human aid professional Patrick Connors said. “The first is the public health concern, you know a large gathering of people who are presumably committed to being unvaccinated and unmasked,” Connors said. “That might create a situation of furthering COVID in the area at a time where we’ve been seeing over the last weeks the increase in cases because of the delta variant.”
Vaxx Facts monitors anti-vaccination campaigns in Columbia County for misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and alt-right content and exposes their activities to the public and the media, according to the newsletter.
The latest edition urges people who are concerned about the threat of COVID to steer clear of the “festival being held in Claverack this weekend.”
“This large gathering of unvaccinated, unmasked people risks spreading the virulent delta variant,” according to the newsletter. “The event will raise money for four anti-vaxx groups that are spreading dangerous disinformation and have worked with extremist — sometimes violent — alt-right groups.”
An advertisement for the festival says it is “benefiting Children’s Health Defense (a group that believes in health freedom for parents, that vaccination should be a parent’s choice and not the government’s, according to their website), ICAN (Informed Consent Action Network), NYStandsUp (a group that says it challenges the governor’s declaration that COVID-19 is a public health “emergency” to restore our freedoms and reclaim New York) and local health freedom groups.
Do We Need This describes itself as a group of informed citizens of Columbia County “imagining our own future — a future that includes medical freedom and democracy for all,” according to its website.
Stand Up Massachusetts is a group of concerned western Massachusetts residents “that care deeply about safeguarding our basic human, health and parental rights,” according to its site.
The festival advertisement states it will be a day of “music, dance, love and joy” and suggestes a $20 donation and says the festival is “benefiting health freedom.” The online post includes a list of nine performers and groups and mentions “organic food,” “awesome vendors” and “overnight camping.”
“This event and others by groups like Do We Need This can cause real and serious harm in our community by spreading misinformation about proven effective vaccines and other public health measures that prevent COVID,” Connors said. “It is a real danger that they are confusing people and deterring them from getting life-saving vaccinations.”
Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said he heard of the event planned for this weekend.
“People who are anti-vaccination tend to be anti-mask,” Mabb said. “It does have potential to be a spreader event. I just don’t think there’s that many of them. This is an event that ... they want to pull people from far and wide, so they could have a fair number of people there.”
Michael Seserman, health systems manager, state and primary care at the American Cancer Society, said he worries about misinformation spreading in the county.
“As a local resident and a public health professional who works to promote life-saving vaccines, I am very concerned about the misinformation being spread by a small group of people in Columbia County,” Seserman said. “At a time when more than 600,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, these misguided individuals are putting themselves and our community at risk for more outbreaks and the creation of stronger variants.”
An event like this festival could put a number of people at risk, local resident Sam Hodge said.
“Not only their lives, but the lives of other members of our community,” Hodge said. “Young people who are ineligible for the vaccine, those are the folks who are at risk. All over the country were seeing little kids and the elderly or the immunocompromised folks in hospitals, and it’s avoidable. It’s a community effort we all need to step up to the plate.”