In Tennessee, where cases of COVID-19 are rising, the state’s top immunization expert was fired for reminding teenagers that they are eligible for the vaccine and may legally get it without parental consent. After Republican lawmakers threw a hissy fit, the Tennessee Department of Health not only pulled back its outreach to teens for the COVID vaccine, but it also muted its outreach for other vaccines.
This may sound like something out of the Dark Ages, when people killed cats because they believed that Satan-loving felines were spreading the bubonic plague. But medieval Europeans who blamed cats at least had an excuse: They were ignorant of science and the basics of the spread of contagious disease. Tennessee lawmakers may be science illiterates, but they have no excuse for it. They are simply opportunists without conscience.
Unfortunately, this wretched response to COVID isn’t limited to Republicans in Tennessee. The inimitable Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., lead congressional lunatic, has introduced a bill to fire the nation’s most prominent expert on infectious disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who seems to be positioning himself for a presidential bid, has bragged about his resistance to advice from public health officials. DeSantis, a Trump ally, is selling merchandise with the slogan: “Don’t Fauci My Florida.” Meanwhile, as the delta variant spreads through the Sunshine State, cases of COVID-19 are soaring there. The rate of new cases is close to four times the national average, according to The Washington Post.
It seems the conservative enterprise has become a death cult, a movement that enthusiastically spreads lies and pseudoscientific nonsense that will have fatal consequences for many of its followers. At a prominent gathering of conservatives earlier this month — the Conservation Political Action Conference — audience members cheered when a speaker touted the fact that fewer people had received the vaccine than President Joe Biden had hoped.
The vast majority of states with the lowest vaccination rates — including Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas — have Republican governors. Those are also the states, not coincidentally, where the delta variant is wreaking havoc.
Arkansas has one of the highest rates of COVID infections in the country at the moment, a surge that started earlier in the summer. At least Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has had the common sense to urge his state’s residents to get the vaccine and has accepted federal assistance to combat resistance to the shots.
Not so in Missouri, which rivals Arkansas for the highest rate of COVID infections. GOP Gov. Mike Parson has been vocal about resisting the advice of public health experts. Parson recently told Biden, who has assembled teams of volunteers to go door-to-door to urge residents to get vaccinated, that he doesn’t want those “surge response” teams in Missouri. Parson never enacted a mask mandate, and he tweeted a photo of himself at a crowded Fourth of July celebration in Branson. A hospital near that popular tourist destination was recently overwhelmed by COVID cases, running out of ventilators and begging for assistance.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has also refused federal assistance to raise the vaccination rate in her state, though it vies with Mississippi for the nation’s lowest. There are children in Mississippi hospitalized with COVID-19, in intensive care units, struggling for their lives. But that state’s Gov. Tate Reeves has criticized the “surge response” teams — which are composed of local volunteers, such as clergy — as “invading people’s right to privacy.”
This is unconscionable. Many of these leading Republicans so invested in Trumpism have had the vaccination themselves. So has former President Donald Trump. So has media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News minions denounce the vaccine on a daily basis.
Yet, they are more than willing to allow some of their fellow conservatives to die off if it assures them more votes or more viewers. Opportunism is perhaps one word for this. Hypocrisy is another. But the term “evil” is probably the most fitting.