As the country grapples to achieve sufficient vaccinations to produce a large degree of immunity from the Delta virus and possibly even more lethal versions, it's essential to call out the resisters, name the names of those who are prolonging the COVID nightmare.
The good news: More than 56 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated; the Food and Drug Administration may soon give the okay for children to be vaccinated; the number of cases and deaths are both declining. The bad news: There still are nearly 100,000 cases and 1,500 deaths each day.
Under the claim of protecting personal liberties, opponents of effective actions — starting with enabling politicians — are endangering others. The states with the worst records — with few exceptions — are led by right-wing governors, like Florida's Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisHaley hits the stump in South Carolina Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills A sad reality: In a season of giving, most will ignore America's poor MORE.
No place is loonier than Texas, where Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottHillicon Valley —TSA to strengthen rail sector cybersecurity When politics trump workers' health, we know who gets burned Judge blocks Texas social media censorship law MORE issued an executive order banning any private businesses or local governments or schools from requiring vaccines; they'd face a $1,000 fine. Abbott also opposes mask mandates. It's no surprise that Texas has a terrible record on COVID.
Abbott may seem enlightened compared to his fellow Lone Star reactionaries. The Texas Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, last year suggested maybe the elderly — most vulnerable to the virus — should die so that the economy could open up. Alan West, a former Republican Florida congressman who wants to run against Abbott, sent anti-vaccine tweets from his hospital bed while being treated for COVID.
Someone should tell them about the conservative gospel that government should only rarely interfere with the private sector and that government closest to the people is best.
Or look at Idaho, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. With a surge in cases, intensive care units were full, and the state had to turn to neighboring Washington state, which has one of the highest vaccination rates.
When the Idaho governor was out of state for a couple days, the right-wing Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin — you're not going to believe this — issued an executive order prohibiting any schools or universities from vaccine requirements or mandatory testing. (Fortunately, Republican Gov. Brad Little rescinded it.)
In no small part due to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE's anti-science, anti-expert screeds, Republicans dominate the anti-vaxxers.
“There has always been a fringe,” notes Simon Haeder, a professor of public policy at Penn State who tracks the vaccine controversies. “Now it’s the mainstream of the Republican party.”
Two Republican senators — Kentucky's Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP anger with Fauci rises Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Cotton swipes at Fauci: 'These bureaucrats think that they are the science' MORE and Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House sets up Senate shutdown showdown MORE of Kansas — both physicians, are critics. That's expected of Paul, who embraces other far-out views. Marshall, an obstetrician and freshman lawmaker, says it's good to be vaccinated but opposes mask mandates, touts dubious drug treatments like hydroxychloroquine, and declared natural immunity is at least as good as having had both vaccinations. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) complained about him spreading “misinformation."
Just as there are quack lawyers, journalists and politicians, there are a handful of anti-vaccine doctors. The respectable-sounding “American Association of Physicians and Surgeons” warns against vaccines, especially for children; for years every state has required kindergarteners be vaccinated for mumps and other conditions. AAPS opposes Medicare and Medicaid, and spins conspiracy theories: “It's a hyper-conservative bunch of kooks with MDs,” says Donald McNeil, a leading science writer and former top medical reporter for the New York Times.
But with social media, these outliers — the American Medical Association reports more than 96 percent of doctors are vaccinated — have a disproportionate impact on uninformed resisters.
National labor unions, starting with the AFL-CIO, have rightly embraced the Biden administration's push for vaccine requirements to protect their members. But a number of local unions — teachers, teamsters, and some public employee unions even in places like affluent Montgomery County — are fighting requirements. This is especially prevalent in police unions. John Catanzara, head of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, likened vaccination requirements to Nazism. “Cops,” Professor Haeder notes, “tend to be Republicans.”
Unions have legitimate issues to raise, such as guaranteed paid sick leave, if necessary, after vaccines. But protecting the health of workers should not be a sticking point.
There are a number of Black Americans skeptical of vaccines for historical reasons. That makes it especially incumbent on black role models.
The National Basketball Players Association, usually one of the most far-sighted unions, has dropped the ball; it won't let the NBA require all players to be vaccinated. Especially disappointing is the silence of LeBron James, an outspoken advocate for social justice.
He should listen to another advocate: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In a Rolling Stone interview, the former all-time great declared: “There is no room for players who are willing to risk the heath and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research.” He asks the vaccine deniers what would they do "if their child was sick."
That's the same question for companies, schools, restaurants, cops and politicians. Lives are at stake.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.