PORTAGE, MI — A small group of protesters stood outside of the Pfizer building in Portage while President Joseph Biden toured the facility where the COVID-19 vaccine is being produced.
The group of 10 played music, rang cowbells and held signs criticizing the president and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who joined the president on the tour of the vaccine production facility.
John Clore drove down from Lansing, donning his COVID Man superhero uniform made of a plastic-wrapped laundry hamper, hazmat suit and the former Soviet Union’s flag as a cape.
The group was made up of individuals who met each other at lockdown and “stop the steal” rallies throughout the year. The protest group has shrunk after the January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Grand Rapids resident Steven Lee said.
Lee was among those who drove to Washington D.C. for stop the steal rallies, and marched to the Capitol. Lee said he did not go into the Capitol building, but the response to the insurrection has impacted his close circle of friends. Videos posted by him and his girlfriend to social media have prompted visits from the federal government, he said.
“Ever since then there has been a massive fallout,” Lee said of the local group of stop the steal protesters.
He describes himself as a longtime “truther” who has been skeptical of mandatory vaccines before the pandemic. While Lee said he isn’t against the vaccine or those who choose to take it, he fears the government and corporate relationship to rollout the COVID-19 vaccine is infringing on his choices.
He said he’s concerned that the COVID-19 vaccine may become a requirement for jobs or group events like concerts.
If Lee was able to speak to Biden one-on-one his message would be a simple one: “Leave us alone.”
State Rep. Steve Carra, R-St. Joseph, joined the group to express his skepticism with how fast the vaccine was produced. He said the government was overstepping by federally funding its production and distribution.
“Just like a loaf of bread, if you want to go buy a loaf of bread that should come out of your pocket,” Carra said. “If you want to get the vaccine. Go ahead, go buy it. That’s your choice.”
To speed up the vaccine production, the Trump administration initiated $18 billion Project Warp Speed. Pfizer has distanced itself from the project and did not accept funding upfront for the research portion of Project Warp Speed.
The company has entered agreements with the federal government to sell the vaccine. The Trump administration ordered a total of 200 million doses from Pfizer. The second half were contracted to arrive in June. Biden announced that Pfizer agreed to expedite the process a month early for those doses to be delivered in May.
Contracts for an additional 100 million Pfizer vaccines were also finalized last week. Biden said the country is now on track to have enough supply for 300 million doses by the end of July.
Carra also questions the unprecedented speed at which the vaccine was made.
The COVID-19 vaccine was produced, approved and distributed within nine months. Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine production far surpassed the mumps vaccine, which was developed in four years and distributed to the public in 1977.
Jon Rocha, a member of the Michigan Needs an Adjustment Facebook group that has amassed a following of nearly 55,000, said that the discussion around the vaccine does not need to be political.
“I think you can be excited about the ingenuity and the values of hard work and getting things done fast,” he said. “But you still have to come at it with skepticism say okay, why did it come so fast.”
The pharmaceutical companies give credit to mRNA technology for the fast pace. The German company BioNTech had a head start and was already testing mRNA vaccines for influenza, Zika and rabies virus.
Project Warp Speed also enabled for faster approval. Still, the Food and Drug Administration set the threshold for emergency use for the COVID-19 vaccines to be 50% effective.
The Pfizer BioNTech product reached 95% effectiveness and was approved by the FDA on Dec. 11 for emergency authorization.
Also protesting in Portage Friday was a group of Burmese advocates calling on Biden to “end the coup” in Myanmar.
p class=”article__paragraph article__paragraph–left” id=”4T4P2EGFXJHI3HM4U25NL56LPI”>On Feb. 1, the military seized control of the Southeast Asian country’s government following a general election in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won.
The group gathered across from the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International airport, where Air Force One landed and departed during the presidential visit.
As Biden’s motorcade reentered the airport through a gate along Portage Road, protesters collectively called on the president, asking for his help. Shortly after, the president boarded Air Force One and, at about 4:20 p.m., departed Kalamazoo.
More on MLive: