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Doctor critical of vaccine mandates to testify before Senate on Covid treatments

Democrats are worried Dr. Jane M. Orient could undermine public health efforts to get the public inoculated against the coronavirus.
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Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., center, listens during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3, 2020.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Democrats are objecting to a doctor who has previously opposed vaccine requirements being featured as the lead witness at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing Tuesday on COVID-19 treatment.

Dr. Jane M. Orient is the executive director of a group of conservative doctors that have fought against government-backed healthcare and staked out controversial positions in the medical community on vaccines, abortion and AIDs. Called the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the group previously described federal vaccine mandates as “a serious intrusion to individual liberty.”

Orient, whose testimony was first reported by The New York Times, is scheduled to appear before the committee remotely.

With possible distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine only days away, public health officials have ramped up efforts to convince the public to be inoculated against the disease which is on the rise again across the country.

A Democratic Homeland Security Committee aide tells NBC that Chairman Ron Johnson never consulted Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the panel, about the scope of this hearing or the witness list, who were selected by Republicans.

“It is unfortunate that during this worsening public health and economic crisis, the witnesses chosen for tomorrow’s hearing will amplify theories that are at odds with the broader scientific community and, according to experts, could cause harm," Peters said in a statement. "These fringe views run counter to what the Senate should be doing — working on a bipartisan basis to protect the American people and tackle this deadly pandemic.”

The hearing on Tuesday is the committee’s second to examine the response to COVID-19.

“I continue to support development of a safe and effective vaccine," Johnson told NBC in a statement.

Johnson said the hearing — like the prior one — will focus on early treatment.

"Had others been as supportive of early treatments, thousands of lives could have been saved,” Johnson said.

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the hearing.

“At such a crucial time, giving a platform to conspiracy theorists to spread myths and falsehoods about COVIDs vaccines is downright dangerous and one of the last things Senate Republicans should be doing right now,” Schumer said in a statement.