Not so long ago the anti-vax movement seemed to generally lean to the left. Some described them as “crunchy granola purists.” As I have argued in the past, that anti-vax movement could point to some legitimate concerns about pharmaceutical companies—namely that they are primarily profit driven and are often not interested in serving the public good. See, for example, the opioid epidemic. However, much of the old anti-vax ideology was driven by untrue claims, with the long debunked claim that vaccines cause autism. This movement, as anyone who has even a basic understanding of disease knows, presented a meaningful danger to themselves and others.
After the Trump administration scored significant political points with its base by lying about the pandemic, it makes sense that clever demons on the right have decided to imitate and assimilate the anti-vax movement. While it seems evil and insane, many on the right have decided that attacking vaccination is a smart political move—and it seems to be paying off for them politically. The impact, as anyone who has not been lobotomized by ideology would predict, has been significant. As rational and responsible Americans got vaccinated, COVID infections and deaths began to drop. One could be sensibly optimistic about turning the corner on the pandemic and one could reasonably hope that the end was in sight. But as the right stepped up their war on vaccination, COVID cases and deaths began to increase. The only good news, such as it is, is that the vaccines have proven to be very effective: about 99.7% of COVID deaths are those of people who did not get vaccinated. It is morally horrifying that we have effective vaccines available, and Republicans are literally killing people to score political points. And, maddeningly, their base loves these people for killing them.
While DeSantis, the governor of my adopted state of Florida, has been peddling anti-vax and anti-mask merch while COVID cases spike upwards and people die, Tennessee has decided to top that. As an aside, DeSantis should upgrade his merch from “Don’t Fauci Florida” to “Die with DeSantis.” There also needs to be a “You can’t drink a beer if you’re dead” beer koozie in response to his “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?” One can make an excellent case that he is killing the people of Florida. Not only are people cheering this, but they are also buying his merch. He will, no doubt, be re-elected in 2022, perhaps under the slogan “blood for the blood god!” But back to Tennessee.
In Tennessee, Republican lawmakers have pressured the Tennessee Department of Health to halt all vaccine outreach. If they must issue information about vaccines, they department must ensure that none of the documents have the agency logo. All COVID-19 vaccination events on school property have been stopped and the department will cease sending reminder cards to minors for the second shot. The bizarre argument for this is that the reminder cards should not be sent because they could be “potentially interpreted as solicitation to minors.” They could be if one was absurdly intent on this interpretation.
If Tennessee’s was only halting COVID-19 vaccine outreach to children, then this would be bad enough. While children seem to be less vulnerable to the virus, they are not immune, and they can infect other people. As such, vaccinating minors is an important part of ending the pandemic. What is beyond horrific is that Tennessee in ending all vaccine outreach. While people can, of course, still get their children vaccinated, a state’s Department of Health has an important role in informing citizens of vaccines and encouraging people to protect themselves and others from needless and senseless illness and death. If this were a horror story, there would be some cult of disease or demon behind this; but in the real world it is just evil people. People who are willing to increase the chances children will get ill or die simply to score some short-term political points with their base. But one must also blame the base—especially those who have children. The politicians are, in effect, saying “we are doing what we can to hurt your children” and the base seems to be onboard with that. I must wonder if there is a limit to what the base will embrace and accept; I would have thought that endangering children would be such a limit, but I seem to be wrong about that. Perhaps these politicians will run with the slogan “disease for the plague god, the deaths of children for the plague god, vote GOP for the plague god!”