Polling has confirmed the troubling politicization of what should be a straightforward health care decision. To date, some 86% of Democrats have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, while only 45% of Republicans have.
Furthermore, a survey by The Washington Post found that only 6% of Democratic respondents reported an intent to decline the vaccine, while 47% of Republicans said they would probably refuse to be inoculated.
Not to put too fine a point on it, this is insane.
Aside from people with genuine medical conditions that make vaccination unwise, the various justifications offered for denying the vaccine range from hypocritical (“pro-life” politicians suddenly defending the right of individuals to control their own bodies) to inaccurate (“freedom” has never included the right to endanger others—if it did, we’d have the “freedom” to drive drunk and ignore red lights), to conspiratorial (COVID is a “hoax” perpetrated by those hated liberals).
America has always had citizens willing to make decisions that endanger others; what is truly mystifying, however, is why such people are clustered in red states—very much including Indiana. At a time when three states in the Northeast have reached President Biden’s 70% benchmark, data from 15 red states shows half or fewer of adult residents vaccinated.
Virtually every state with large numbers of people who have refused vaccination is predominantly Republican. In several of those states, hospitalizations of the unvaccinated threaten to overwhelm health care systems. New York, a blue state, has five COVID patients hospitalized per 100,000 people; red state Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has actually barred businesses from requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination, has 34 per 100,000.
DeSantis’ Trumpian approach is an excellent example of just how dramatically the GOP has departed from the philosophy that used to define it. Whatever happened to the Republican insistence that business owners have the right to determine the rules for their own employees and patrons? (They still give lip service to those rules when the issue is whether to serve LGBTQ customers, but happily abandon them when the decision involves the health and safety of those same patrons.)
And what happened to the GOP’s former insistence on patriotism? Surely protecting others in one’s community from a debilitating and frequently deadly disease is patriotic.
Tribalism has clearly triumphed over logic. The desire to “own the libs” has proved to be more powerful than self-protection. As Amanda Marcotte recently wrote in Salon, “Getting the vaccine would be an admission for conservatives that they were wrong about COVID-19 in the first place, and that liberals were right. And for much of red-state America, that’s apparently a far worse fate than death.”
Making vaccine refusal a badge of political affiliation makes absolutely no sense. It does, however, correspond to the precipitous decline of rationality in what was once the “Grand Old Party”—a party now characterized by the anti-science, anti-logic, anti-intellectualism of officials like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar and Louie Gohmert (who was memorably described by Charlie Savage as “the dumbest mammal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse”).
These mental giants (cough, cough) are insisting that vaccination will “magnetize” the body and make keys stick to you, and/or charging that Bill Gates is sneaking “tracking chips” into the vaccine doses. (As a friend recently wondered, don’t most of those people warning against “tracking devices” own cell phones?? Talk about tracking … .)
Talk about buffoonery.
Bill Hudnut and Richard Lugar must be rotating in their graves.•
Kennedy recently retired as professor of law and public policy at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI.