It took the top health official in Orange County, Calif., a
few seconds to process a lawmaker's bizarre question during a Tuesday Board of
Supervisors meeting to discuss "vaccine passports."
"In the vaccine, we heard about an injection of the
tracking device," Republican Supervisor Don P. Wagner said. "Is that
being done anywhere in Orange County?"
Clayton Chau, the county's health care agency director,
could not hold back his shocked laughter.
"I'm sorry. I just have to compose myself," Chau
said moments later. "There's not a vaccine with a tracking device embedded
in it that I know of exists in the world. Period."
The clip quickly went viral, with critics piling on and
accusing Wagner of spreading vaccine misinformation in a public meeting.
"Dear @DonWagnerCA, there is no tracking device in the
#COVID19 vaccine," tweeted Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health
economist with the Federation of American Scientists. "Stop peddling
conspiracies. You know you asked it in a conspiracy-deranged manner."
But the legislator fiercely defended his question, insisting
that he brought up the question on behalf of constituents who "made wild
charges" about the vaccines, including a false claim that there are
"microchips" in the shots.
"I led Dr. Chau through those charges and to have him
debunk them," Wagner said in an email to The Washington Post. "I knew
they are not true but wanted the public to hear that directly from Dr. Chau. I
got exactly the response from Dr. Chau I expected, with the same laugh at the
absurdity of the charges that they deserve."
The viral exchange comes as Orange County confronts a wave
of fierce vaccine skepticism, including at a Board of Supervisors two weeks ago
that drew hundreds protesting the possible use of electronic vaccination
records. A little over a million county residents have been fully vaccinated.
The incident also arrives as a significant number of
Republicans continue to resist the vaccines, as The Post's Dan Diamond recently
reported. Although more than half of the U.S. adults have received at least one
dose of the coronavirus vaccine, more than 40 percent of Republicans have
consistently told pollsters they're not planning to be vaccinated.
Wagner, a practicing attorney and former mayor of Irvine,
was elected in 2019 to represent nearly 600,000 residents of counties including
Anaheim Hills, Irvine, Orange, among others. The viral clip isn't the first
time he's found himself in the middle of a controversy about the coronavirus
Last July, Wagner served on an 11-member panel that issued
local school guidelines and recommended against social distancing measures and
mask-wearing for children, claiming that mask rules are "not only difficult,
if not impossible to implement, but not based on science," and "may
When questioned by CNN's Brianna Keilar, Wagner, who said he
supported the "voluntary" use of masks, distanced himself from the
guidance and denied ever writing or supporting these guidelines despite being
an appointed member of the panel.
"Those are not my recommendations," Wagner told
the network on July 15. "All I did was give a couple of minutes really of
The next month, Wagner said he opposed Democratic Gov. Gavin
Newsom's "erratic" covid-19 response, referencing the governor's
color-coded system intended to "slow" the reopening of the state's
"This is not following the science," Wagner then
Then, about two weeks ago, he argued that "vaccinations
should never be required to access government services and government must
never discriminate against its citizens."
Wagner, though, has expressed his support for the vaccine
and got a Johnson & Johnson shot from Chau earlier this month. Wagner
tweeted a picture of it, thanking Chau for the "quick and painless"
Tuesday's meeting was marked by a wave of protesters who
flocked to the room to object to vaccines and mask rules. The group also
protested the idea of vaccine passports, the Voice of OC reported.
Wagner first asked Chau whether a digital record of vaccinations
in the county would be used for "tracking folks."
"Nope," Chau said.
Then, Wagner directly asked Chau whether vaccines in Orange
County had tracking devices in them - setting off the Internet firestorm.
Wagner said his intent was to disprove misinformation, not
"He [Chau] and I are in regular communication about
these public myths, and when they persist for months on end, we work together
to dispel them. I am in no way concerned about trackers in the vaccine and Dr.
Chau knows this, as he administered my vaccine ... I continue to encourage
everybody to get vaccinated if they can," Wagner told The Post.
Wagner also asked Chau whether the county should lift its
emergency declaration on the pandemic, arguing that case rates, positivity rates
and hospitalizations have been consistently low for some time.
"We always had the flu and it always kills people in
Orange County. But we don't declare a state of emergency," Wagner said.
About 543 people die of the flu in Orange County every year,
according to state data cited by the Voice of OC, while about 5,000 county
residents have died of virus complications, according to data compiled by the
Orange County Health Care Agency.
Chau and other colleagues said it was premature to lift the
state of emergency, adding that the county will lose significant funds if the
order is lifted too soon.
By the end of the meeting, county officials put proposals
about digital vaccine records on hold.