A Hill residents walking her dog just to the east of the US Capitol Grounds was shocked to find signs comparing COVID-19 vaccination to rape Tuesday morning.
The resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, said that the signs had been posted late Tuesday morning by a white man in his early 30s. She watched him as he posted signs on the 300 block of Independence Avenue SE. Signs were later spotted as far east as Eastern Market.
“Wake up,” reads one, “#stopneedlerape.” The image is of a syringe labelled “COVID VAX” with a circle around it and a line diagonally through the image. The signs are labelled “Beaver Dyson ®.” Another reads, “Please don’t rape me, bro.”
The comparison is not only crass, it is inaccurate, said the resident who watched the man put them up. “I just find the message, personally, to be terrible,” she said. She said that it was bad enough that the posters cast aspersion on the vaccine, which is effective and safe. It was shocking that they equate getting vaccinated –a necessary step in preventing the spread of the pandemic– with violent sexual assault . “That was just so horrifying,” she added.
The slogan appears to draw on anti-vaccination campaigns launched years before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2015, The Guardian reported one such series used by the Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network in 2015 that were more explicit. Images showed a woman, her mouth covered by the hand of a man behind her, accompanied by text “Forced penetration. Really – no big deal, if it’s just a vaccination needle, and he’s a doctor.”
Buttons worn by anti-vaxxers at a June 2021 protest of the G7 Conference at Oxford also made the comparison, with at least one wearing a badge that said “coerced vaccination is medical rape.”
The signs appear on the Hill as effects of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus become impossible to ignore in the District, as well as the nation. On Tuesday, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated mask guidance to recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission. That’s nearly two-thirds of all US counties.
In a statement released in response to the updated CDC guidelines, DC Health said they were reviewing CDC guidance related to mask wearing. “Similar to trends across the nation, the District of Columbia has experienced a four-fold increase in its daily case rate since the beginning of July,” said DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt in the statement.
“DC’s transmission increase is driven primarily by unvaccinated individuals,” Dr. Nesbitt added. “We know that COVID-19 vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community.”
The District’s rate of transimission for Monday, July 26 was 1.29, or just under 4 new cases for every three reported. 1,147 District residents have lost their lives due to COVID-19.
In response to the signs, Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) had this message: “Ignore homemade, offensive signs and get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family. Don’t overthink it. Almost everyone who is dying or being hospitalized is unvaccinated.”
“These signs are offensive, they are wrong, and this type of message hurts our community.”
It is not a District requirment that individuals get the COVID-19 vaccine, although DC Health and medical professionals urge everyone eligible to do so. While some private schools, employers and universities are requiring individuals to be vaccinated before they return to school or work, most municipalities and public employers stop short of a mandate, many citing the fact that the vaccine is being administered under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
In late June, when Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) Paul Kihn told the DC Council that the agency was not considering making the vaccine mandatory at that time, he specified the EUA as a barrier. “According to DC Health, the EUA makes it harder for municipalities and jurisdictions to mandate the vaccine,” Kihn said.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) which issues full approval for vaccines, has until Jan. 22, 2022 to review the documents associated with the Pfizer vaccine, the only one approved for children, and decide whether to grant full approval.
The Capitol Hill neighborhood has relatively high vaccination rates. According to data posted by DC Health, nearly 48 percent of Capitol Hill residents aged 12 years or older have been fully vaccinated. As of July 19, DC Health estimated that almost 63 percent of residents had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 53 percent fully vaccinated. But the number declines to 39 percent of residents in Trinidad, to the north, and 34 percent in St. Elizabeth’s, to the south.
This story has been updated to include comments from DC Health and from Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen.