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Group protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates across from Sanford hospital in Sioux Falls

The rally, held just across the street from the Sanford Health hospital campus, was ostensibly held there to protest the health system's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its employees. But the concerns of organizers and attendees were much broader — encompassing federal vaccine mandates for large employers and health systems, and including a hefty helping of resistance to vaccines and masking more generally.

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State Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, speaks to a crowd protesting employee COVID-19 vaccination mandates, in a park near the Sanford Health hospital campus in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Sept. 14, 2021. (Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service)
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — About 200 people rallied to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates in a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, park on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

The rally, just across the street from the Sanford Health hospital campus, was ostensibly to protest the health system's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its employees. But the concerns of organizers and attendees were much broader, encompassing federal vaccine mandates for large employers and health systems, and including a hefty helping of resistance to vaccines and masking more generally.

"These mandates, wherever they're coming from — Washington, D.C., Joe Biden, Sanford Health, any other corporation in South Dakota — they must be defeated," said Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids.

Hansen has proposed legislation that would ban vaccine mandates by employers in South Dakota. But since the state Legislature isn't in session until January, a special session would be required to specifically consider the draft bill, which would require the agreement of two-thirds of the members of the Legislature. There seems to be little appetite among lawmakers for such a session.

The crowd Tuesday did include some Sanford Health employees, most notably a man dressed in a white lab coat, wearing his Sanford Health ID badge.

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The man, Dr. Mick Vanden Bosch, an ophthalmologist with Sanford Health, said he was joining the rally to lend credibility to their protest, like he's done at previous, similar events.

He said he believes the COVID-19 vaccine is dangerous. That's despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, broad approval of the vaccine from the scientific and medical communities and the endorsement of the Food and Drug Administration, whose approval process is considered the gold standard worldwide.

Vanden Bosch said he gets most of what he believes about COVID-19 vaccines from his wife, a stay-at-home mom and a nurse by training who has spent "a lot of time" researching the topic online, he said.

"She actually got into it with the election last year," he said. "Otherwise she really didn't spend a whole lot of time looking up stuff on the internet."

Vanden Bosch isn't worried about losing his job, despite Sanford Health requiring all employees be vaccinated by Nov. 1. He's asked for and received a religious exemption to getting the vaccine, he said, and if he hadn't received it, he would have quit his job.

He said he hasn't heard a word from Sanford Health administrators about his public appearances alongside protesters.

"Being out on the sidewalk, in the paper, nobody has ever said anything to me, good or bad," he said.

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Jeremy Fugleberg is an editor who manages coverage of health (NewsMD), history and true crime (The Vault) for Forum News Service, the regional wire service of Forum Communications Co, and is a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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