The Republicans who sit atop Utah’s political class are so laser-focused on being against anything that President Joe Biden is for that they are more than willing to tank the economy, disrupt another year of education, even add to the state’s COVID-19 death toll - just so they can been seen fighting the president’s attempts to finally get a handle on the pandemic.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes foolishly signed the state onto a fusillade of lawsuits seeking to overturn Biden’s directives that workplaces, health care facilities and Head Start classrooms require staff to be vaccinated with, in some cases, an option of submitting to frequent coronavirus testing instead.
Reyes doesn’t even attempt to argue vaccinations are not the best way out of what now promises to be a third year of suffering. If he did, it would be a bald-faced lie.
But he and the A.G.s in a couple of dozen other Republican states claim Biden is exceeding his statutory authority in reaching for tools he can use to end this outbreak. An outbreak that has killed more than 800,000 Americans and left millions more ill, even as it has torpedoed a generation’s educational opportunities, ruined businesses, caused a spike in evictions and strained our health care providers well past the breaking point.
So devoted are Republicans to their crusade that even Donald Trump gets booed at his own rallies when he claims, with some justification, credit for the development of the first vaccines and announces that he is now triple-vaxxed.
Vaccination mandates have been part of civilized life in America and around the world for decades. It wasn’t just vaccines, but vaccine mandates, that virtually rid the world of polio, measles and diphtheria, saving many millions of lives and keeping our civilization moving forward.
Opposing vaccine mandates now, when we so clearly need them most, is irrational and deadly. It is not conservative or patriotic. It will not help the economy. And it is anything but “pro-life.”
It’s tempting to be angry at the many Americans who consume propaganda that stirs up baseless fears of hoaxes, side-effects, microchips or other asinine reasons not to be vaccinated and have your children vaccinated as well. Tempting but not, apparently, very productive.
Instead the blame should go to the powerful. To our political leaders and those holding the bullhorns of TV, radio and the internet. It is their irresponsible leadership that has left us in such a horrible situation.
Experience shows that vaccine mandates work. And if schools, factories, hospitals and police forces do find themselves crippled by staff shortages as a result of anti-vax acting out, the blame is not with those who ordered the mandates, but with those who opposed them, especially those supposedly in positions of leadership.
Utah Republicans such as Gov. Spencer Cox and Sen. Mike Lee count themselves as pro-vaccine but anti-mandate. But that’s not possible. Vaccines, if they are to be effective, need to be administered to the vast majority of any population. To leave the choice of whether to get vaccinated to each individual’s discretion is to assure that vaccinations won’t work nearly so well to squelch the growth and evolution of any family of viruses.
Others have gone further down the rabbit hole, not simply making the vaccine a matter of personal choice but actively denouncing its use and threatening those who promote it.
Utah’s 4th District Rep. Burgess Owens endeared himself to a far-right mob the other day by condemning parents who are, as parents should, getting their young children the vaccine we’ve all been waiting for. And a personality on Fox “News” basically called for someone to murder the top government official who is trying to lead us out of this swamp, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The resurgence of the pandemic, in the form of the new omicron variety, is a problem we’d might not be facing now if the vaccine had had the kind of take-up that governments and health care facilities were expecting in the beginning, when they set up field hospitals and took over convention centers expecting a flood of jab-seekers that never quite materialized as it would in a sane culture.
If Biden is to be criticized, it is because he hasn’t done enough, fast enough. The new program of more vaccine sites and mass availability of home test kits, which the president announced Tuesday, are steps he should have taken months ago.
If Republicans, in Utah and elsewhere, want to show the voters that they are more qualified than the current administration to lead us out of the pandemic, it might not be all that difficult. All they have to do is do a better job than the president has of getting Americans vaccinated.
It would be their finest hour.