GOP-invited Ohio doctor Sherri Tenpenny falsely tells Ohio lawmakers COVID-19 shots 'magnetize' people, create 5G 'interfaces'

Laura A. Bischoff
The Columbus Dispatch
The Ohio House Health Committee is considering legislation to eliminate some vaccination requirements and require school districts to clearly inform parents of existing ways to skip childhood vaccinations. Testimony came from known conspiracy theorist Dr. Sherri Tenpenny.

In a packed hearing room at the Ohio Statehouse, Republican lawmakers gave the microphone to a known conspiracy theorist who has spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, a physician licensed in Ohio and author of "Saying No to Vaccines," shared her views, promoted her credentials and fielded questions for more than 45 minutes during a House Health Committee hearing on House Bill 248.

"I'm sure you've seen the pictures all over the internet of people who have had these shots and now they're magnetized," Tenpenny, of Middleburg Heights in Cuyahoga County, said. "You can put a key on their forehead, it sticks. You can put spoons and forks all over and they can stick because now we think there is a metal piece to that."

Fact check:COVID-19 vaccines don't cause magnetic reactions or contain tracking devices

Later, there was some show-and-tell. 

Joanna Overholt, a registered nurse from Strongsville, defended Tenpenny's testimony and placed a key and a hairpin against her chest and neck.

"Explain to me why the key sticks to me. It sticks to my neck too. So, yeah, if somebody could explain this, that would be great," she said as the key failed to stick to her neck. 

COVID-19 in Ohio: Gov. Mike DeWine says he opposes controversial anti-vaccine bill

Pictures of people sticking pennies and magnets to their arms have been debunked by scientists and public health experts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a bulletin last week clearing the air.

"All COVID-19 vaccines are free from metals such as iron, nickel, cobalt, lithium, and rare earth alloys, as well as any manufactured products such as microelectronics, electrodes, carbon nanotubes, and nanowire semiconductors," the bulletin said. "In addition, the typical dose for a COVID-19 vaccine is less than a milliliter, which is not enough to allow magnets to be attracted to your vaccination site even if the vaccine was filled with a magnetic metal."

Tenpenny also mentioned the false claim that the vaccine contains particles that can connect with 5G wireless technology.

"There's been people who have long suspected that there is some sort of an interface, yet to be defined interface, between what's being injected into these shots and all of the 5G towers," she said.

House Health Committee Chairman Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, said he allowed Tenpenny to testify at the insistence of state Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, who is the primary sponsor of HB248.

State Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, leads the Ohio House Health Committee, which is considering an anti-vaccination bill. Medical freedom groups support House Bill 248 but more than 50 business, medical and health care associations oppose it.

State Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, a physician with a Ph.D. in public health, questioned Tenpenny during the hearing, drawing out her more extreme positions.

Liston said that Ohioans deserve better. 

"We are hearing testimony on a bill that will lead to outbreaks of disease and our invited 'vaccine experts' include a known conspiracy theorist talking about magnets and cell towers along with her followers," Liston said on Wednesday. "The only benefit of this testimony is that it exposes who exactly supports HB248: individuals with absurd, uninformed and dangerous beliefs."

The testimony came in the third hearing on House Bill 248, which includes a wish-list of items sought by vaccine opponents. Proponent testimony stretched on for five hours.

House Bill 248 would:

  • Block employers from mandating vaccinations as a condition of employment.
  • Allow Ohioans to skip any vaccination by making a written or verbal declaration and require health districts, schools or other government agencies to let Ohioans know how they can opt out.
  • Require schools to explicitly tell parents of existing law that allows them to skip childhood vaccinations because of medical, religious or "reasons of conscience."
  • Prohibit forcing unvaccinated people to wear masks, be relegated to separate areas or face other punishments.
  • Allow for civil lawsuits for violations of the bill.
  • Block health departments, schools or other government agencies from mandating participation in a vaccine registry.
  • Repeal a requirement that college students be vaccinated against hepatitis B and meningitis before being allowed to live in the dorms.

Higher immunization rates help protect everyone against contagious diseases such mumps, whooping cough, measles or tuberculosis. Those who can't be vaccinated, such as babies who are too young or people with medical conditions, rely on herd immunity that comes with high vaccination rates.

More than 50 business associations, health care groups and hospitals sent a letter to the House Health Committee last month, opposing the bill.

As of Tuesday, nearly 5.4 million Ohioans had recieved at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.