Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey got a lot of attention last week when she urged her constituents to get vaccinated as a new wave of Covid cases crowded hospitals and ICUs. “I want folks to get vaccinated. That’s the cure. That prevents everything,” she told reporters on Thursday, adding, “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.” Someone should tell Ivey that in her state unvaccinated folks are the “regular folks”—only 39.6 percent of eligible Alabamians are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the country.
And judging from surveys that show Republicans are the most vaccine-averse group in the country, a lot of them are Ivey’s own voters.
Ivey herself is partly to blame, for waiting so long to make a vaccine pitch, and for lifting Alabama’s mask mandate last April. “We are finally rounding the corner. While we haven’t whipped this deadly disease just yet, it appears that, thank the good Lord we are in the home stretch,” she said at the time. Obviously, they were not.
Within the same 24 hours, Fox’s Sean Hannity, House GOP whip Steve Scalise and a group of House Republicans all endorsed the vaccine—although the cowardly Hannity reversed course after criticism from viewers. Still, the sudden shift was long overdue—especially after conservatives, and Fox News, politicized the pandemic.
Maybe the worst hypocrite of all is former Trump-paid liar, now Arkansas gubernatorial candidate, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, appearing last Friday on Fox. The idiotic Steve Doocy introduced her by saying, “We’re hoping she’s not wearing a mask, nope, there she is!” Sanders boasted that if elected, she wouldn’t impose either a mask or a vaccine mandate. “If I am elected governor here in Arkansas we will not have mask mandates, we will not have mandates on the vaccine, we will not shut down churches and schools and other large gatherings, because we believe in personal freedom and responsibility.”
Then Sunday, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, she explained why she and her family had been inoculated with what she called “the Trump vaccine,” and blamed President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Anthony Fauci for vaccine hesitancy among conservatives—but stopped short of even urging Arkansans to get vaccinated. “I understand that the decision to be vaccinated is deeply personal and not an easy one to make,” she wrote, fatuously. “I have many friends who have expressed sincere concerns about being vaccinated, and it isn’t my place to tell them what to do.” That’s leadership.
Speaking of leadership, Sanders has also praised Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the way he’s handled Covid, though Florida now leads the country in Covid cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. After beginning last week by grandstanding at the Texas/Mexico border—Florida shares no border with Mexico—DeSantis returned to address the Covid crisis, urging Floridians to get vaccinated: “These vaccines are saving lives.”
But at the same press conference, he blasted local leaders who are imposing new mask mandates: “It’s telling them that the vaccines don’t work. I think that’s the worst message you can send to people at this time because I think that the data has been really, really good in terms of…reducing mortality dramatically,” DeSantis said. The White House wannabe is also suing to lift a CDC requirement that cruise lines, a major Florida industry, require passengers to be vaccinated.
You can ascribe the new GOP approach—“vaccines good, mandates and masks still bad”—to their purported love of freedom (for themselves, mostly), or their attempt to keep the support of their base, which is literally dying because Republicans politicized the fight against Covid from the beginning. It may also be that they realize that vaccinated folks are getting fed up, Josh Marshall notes—and the majority of vaccinated folks are in their 40s through their 60s, in red states and blue, and are by far the most likely to vote.
When it came to defeating Trump, I had a Popular Front mentality about welcoming Republican Never Trumpers to our side. I suppose I should feel the same about the GOP’s change of heart on vaccines, but I don’t yet. One reason might be that young, vaccinated people I care about, and their friends and coworkers, are testing positive—and getting sick, though not critically. We are seeing a rise in “breakthrough cases” among the vaccinated, and while very few cause serious illness, let alone death—though the number isn’t zero—the cost to the economy, and to people’s lives, will continue to grow. The trustworthy Dr. Bob Wachter uses the highly vaxxed city of San Francisco as a microcosm to show the rise in infection among the vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Republican state legislators still seem more concerned about blocking mask mandates than fighting Covid. The Washington Post reported Monday that at least 15 state legislatures have either passed or are working on measures to limit the legal authority of public health officials, and legislators in at least 46 states have introduced bills trying to curb perceived gubernatorial or executive excesses—mask mandates or quarantines, for instance—during the pandemic or other health emergencies. The legislation is being pushed by the usual right-wing suspects, including the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Pacific Legal Foundation.
The GOP is the party that politicized this disease, and they’re clearly still doing it. If their vaccine endorsements and even blaming their own voters work to increase vaccination, I’ll be relieved, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get to grateful.