Memo to President Biden: Take your vaccination campaign to Alabama


Responsible for 83 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the United States, the Delta Variant is causing a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Along with a spike in cases, which have exploded in July, hospitalizations and deaths are increasing — virtually all of them among people who have not been fully vaccinated. Although President Biden has pleaded with Americans to protect themselves, their loved ones, and members of their community, the number of people getting shots each day has declined dramatically since the spring, with “vaccine hesitancy” persisting among African Americans and Latinos, rural Americans, young people, and Republicans.

It’s time for President Biden to take a vaccination campaign on the road, featuring local influencers and celebrities who will deliver “fear of missing out” (FOMO) messages that shots are safe, effective, free, and urgently necessary. The ruby red state of Alabama, which gave Biden only 36.6 percent of its votes in 2020, and where a meagre 33 percent of eligible residents have been vaccinated, is a good place to start.

The President might begin the event by briefly indicating how many lives have been saved by vaccination in 2021 and declaring that the best — in fact, the only — way to return to “normal” is by increasing the percentage of the population which is immunized against serious illness, hospitalization and death.

He should then ask his guests to share their views and experiences:

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey presumably would be willing to repeat her recent recommendation that people in her state get vaccinated: “That’s the cure. That prevents everything… The data proves that it works.” The shots are safe; they “save lives.” The citizens of Alabama “are supposed to have common sense,” Ivey said. “It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.” 

Two former gridiron rivals, Tommy Tuberville and Nick Saban, might then share the podium. U.S. Sen. Tuberville (R-Ala.), the former head football coach at Auburn University from 1999-2008, warned state residents in April, “This is not over. People are still getting sick. Be responsible.” Indicating that he would continue to wear his mask in public, Tuberville pleaded, “Please take the vaccine. Please take it. Because it helps. I’ve had it. It’s safe.”

Head football coach at the University of Alabama since 2007 and considered by many the greatest coach in college football history, Nick Saban recently released a public service announcement in which he reported that “pretty close” to 90 percent of his players are fully vaccinated. Eager to play home games in a stadium full of fans, Saban said, “Let’s make sure we can safely make this happen.”

Radio host and Macon County community activist Omar Neal understands that many African Americans are vaccine hesitant because they remember the Tuskegee “experiment,” in which hundreds of Black men (including his uncle) were coerced into a U.S. government study of the impact of untreated syphilis. Neal has disseminated a video of himself getting vaccinated, on which he contrasts COVID-19, in which people are getting protection from the virus, with the Tuskegee “study,” which “denied treatment.”

Next up might be Rev. Tyler Cantrell, pastor of Palmerdale United Methodist Church. Sole caretaker of his mother, a cancer survivor who has lupus, Cantrell might review what he’s done to help senior citizens in his community get vaccinated.

Brytney Cobia, a doctor in a Birmingham hospital, could recount her conversations with young, healthy people with very serious COVID-19 infections: “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hands and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

To close the event, Jimmy Buffett, who grew up in Mobile, might repeat his response to a question about whether vaccines go against nature. “Of course, they do,” Buffett said. “Nothing is more natural than death and disease. The vaccines prevent that.” Buffett might then sing “Permanent Reminder of a Temporary Feeling.”

By going to Alabama (and then, perhaps, visiting Missouri and Florida, two other Delta Variant hot spots), President Biden could underscore his commitment to promote the welfare of all Americans. His trips just might convince more Americans to give the recommendations of public health officials another shot.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”

Tags Alabama coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 surge Delta variant Joe Biden Kay Ivey Nick Saban Tommy Tuberville Vaccination vaccination campaign Vaccine Vaccine hesitancy

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