The political push and pull in the debate over the experimental COVID-19 vaccines that are saving lives around the world might be causing vaccine hesitancy in the Deep South and lead to death, lawmakers and health experts fear.
"It's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks," Alabama GOP Gov. Kay Ivey told reporters Friday. "It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down."
But it will still come down to localities, where rural areas are more spread out, less likely to gather and closely interact, less likely to be infected, less likely to be vaccinated, and even more likely to be vilified for choosing not to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Until it starts hitting here really bad again, these people aren't going to get the shot," Lauderdale County, Alabama, vaccine manager Mike Melton told Politico.
President Joe Biden's teased door-to-door vaccine outreach might be prove to be counterproductive, getting hard-liners even more dug in against getting the shot, according to the report.
"I did have a lady come down here and ask why we were pushing something that wasn't an approved drug," he added. "I tried to tell her that this is a volunteer thing and we aren't pushing it on anybody. We're just making it available for the ones that want it. If they want to take it here is the opportunity to take it. If they don't want to get it, nobody is gonna chase them down and force it on them."
Vaccine hesitancy was not just a south or a Republican thing. Last fall, when former president Donald Trump was in office, major national figure heads in the Democratic Party spread vaccine hesitancy.
"If Donald Trump tells us to take it, then I'm not taking it," Harris said during the lone vice presidential debate last fall.
Then-candidate Joe Biden was skeptical and New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo was spewing the same lines anti-vaccine Republicans are now using in explaining why they fear getting vaccinated.
"I'm not that confident," Cuomo said: "You're going to say to the American people now, 'Here's a vaccine, it was new, it was done quickly, but trust this federal administration and their health administration that it's safe? And we're not 100% sure of the consequences.' I think it's going to be a very skeptical American public about taking the vaccine, and they should be."
To have propagated that misinformation and to now being the ones seeking to censor social media disinformation leaves many Deep South Republicans who were hesitant to get the shot more skeptical than ever.
Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis discussed this flip-flop. Back when Trump was saying that, Biden and Harris were saying this was a bad vaccine," DeSantis told Mark Levin's radio show. "They were downplaying it. They were saying it wasn’t going to be effective. That it was dangerous! And actually, I think they've contributed to some of the vaccine hesitancy that we've seen throughout, you know, parts of our society," Florida Politics reported.
"I have people come up to me and say, 'Why on CNN? Couldn't you go on Fox?'" Catherine O'Neal, chief medical officer of Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told Politico. "They are still very angry over the last couple of years. There's an irritation. They are super frustrated. They need to hear it from the people that they trust. They need to hear it from where they get their news every day."
O'Neal is very fearful of the delta variant and would like to see more rural Americans overcome there fears to get the shot. She equates it to a chain smoker who just will not listen to their doctor.
"My absolute favorite patient and clinic, I just want to wrap my hands around every time I see him," she told Politico. "He is the worst smoker ever. He's killing himself. I can't make him stop. I love that man. I never busted him. We've had the talk. He's not going to quit.
"I don't want people to think that we don't see people who make bad choices for themselves. It's just that their bad choice has affected their entire community and is grinding to a halt good medical care."
She claims it is the Republicans who are indoctrinating, without recognizing Trump has always been one way on vaccines unlike top Democrats: Get the shot.
Do it for everyone else now, she said.
"It has to be about the community, not the 'you' because there's been too much about the 'you,'" she told Politico. "'You' they got indoctrinated. It is not about 'you,' it is about the community. You're going to kill your community."
Like the chain smoker who has heard it all before, that rhetoric is unlikely to resonate with her communities outside of Baton Rouge.
"To say that politics doesn't play a part would be wrong," Melton told Politico. "I think the national figures get people talking about the vaccine and that can sometimes take the wrong fork in the road and go the wrong way."
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