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Medical expert weighs in on vaccine misinformation shared by police union president

Posted at 10:30 PM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 20:02:17-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — UPDATED 7/22/21

A recent article from our partners at the Omaha World-Herald brought attention to the fact 41% of Omaha police officers are still unvaccinated.

This was news that some, like Nebraska Democratic Chair Jane Kleeb, found upsetting.

On Monday she sent a message to officers on Twitter saying that it was awful there were still so many of them unvaccinated.

“You are the helpers. You are in contact with a lot of citizens. Get the shot," she wrote.

That same day, Omaha Police Officers Association President Tony Conner replied, telling Kleeb, “I thought we follow the science? Doctors are advising their patients that had the virus not to get the vaccine.”

Conner went on to say that over 200 officers had gotten COVID-19 and told Kleeb to keep her mouth shut.

Conner himself was among those 200 officers who have contracted COVID-19, something he spoke about in an ad for Mayor Jean Stothert’s campaign.

“When I came down with COVID, it hit me pretty hard," Conner said. "I was literally on the brink of death with COVID in the ICU."

This is far from the first time Conner and Nebraska Democratic leaders have butt heads. Kleeb says accusations of the party wanting to defund police departments are driving a wedge between police and Democrats.

“I don’t understand why he’s doing this," Kleeb told 3 News Now on Wednesday. "The only answer is politics. He’s now become an arm of the Republican Party.”

She adds as a community leader, Conner should be using his platform more responsibly.

“He has a large platform. He represents police officers who all of us respect and know that they put their lives on the line every single day," Kleeb said. "And all I’m asking for is honest communication. You can disagree with the Democratic Party, but you shouldn’t be telling us to shut our mouths, and you shouldn’t be giving incorrect medical advice to the public.”

Mark Rupp, Professor and Chief of Infectious Diseases at Nebraska Medicine, recommends every eligible person get the vaccine, including those who have had COVID-19.

“Regardless of whether you’re in a public-facing position or not, all of us have contact with other people and various walks of our life," Rupp said. "And we all need to be protected, and we all need to do the right thing to protect ourselves, to protect our family and to protect our loved ones and to do what’s right for the communities.”

He says data shows that natural immunity is spotty.

“After someone’s had COVID-19, they’re probably protected for some period of time, typically 2-3 months," Rupp said. "But after that, then we start becoming nervous.”

And having already had COVID-19 has proven to be ineffective against the newer Delta variant, now the top evolution of COVID-19 in the country.

Rupp says getting the vaccine is a simple way to ensure you are protected.

“We really regard hospitalization and death now from COVID-19 to be primarily a preventable problem," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control also says that having had COVID-19 is not a reason to avoid getting vaccinated.

3 News Now reached out to Tony Conner and the Omaha Police Officer's Association for comment, and they said they could speak with us on Thursday. In a follow-up interview, he clarified his views.

"The leadership line has been, the vaccines are optional, they're not mandatory but certainly we encourage our members and the police officers to get vaccinated," said Conner.

Anthony Conner responds to Twitter controversy and comments

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