The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, November 30, 2021 1:00 am

A need for leadership

GOP's vaccine hesitancy dereliction of duty

Tim Lanane

On Nov. 17 – nearly two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – Indiana reported 3,481 new cases, breaking the 3,000 case ceiling for the first time in nearly three months. The same day, we saw an 11.6% positive test rate.

Astonishingly, at nearly the same moment, Attorney General Todd Rokita announced a third in a series of taxpayer-funded lawsuits targeting federal vaccine efforts. These suits are even more perplexing given the medically based evidence supporting the conclusion that the only means to stop COVID is widespread vaccination.

Yet, Indiana remains one of the least vaccinated states nationwide. We rank 41st for fully vaccinated residents and 46th for residents with at least one dose. Every single one of our neighbor states has performed better.

We have the 18th highest death rate in the country – 255 out of every 100,000 Hoosiers have died as a result of COVID. Our total number of confirmed deaths at the time of writing this article is 17,369.

This number only becomes more harrowing when you consider all the other tens of thousands of lives irrevocably affected by the deaths of their  loved ones and those living with the life-altering side effects of long-haul COVID.

Part of what makes many of these deaths so deeply tragic is that they were likely avoidable. Nationwide, unvaccinated individuals have a much higher chance of catching COVID than those who are fully vaccinated.

They are also 11.3 times likelier to die if they catch it.

Over the past two years, many Republican state leaders have shown persistent ambivalence or outright opposition to vaccination efforts across Indiana, a manifestation of a larger irresponsible culture war.

When Indiana University announced its intent to require COVID vaccinations on campus, Rokita denounced the decision and 19 Republican state lawmakers called on Gov. Eric Holcomb to nullify the mandate. One has to wonder where Rokita and these lawmakers have been, since a vast majority of colleges and universities nationwide have required certain vaccinations as a condition of acceptance for decades – a policy even our courts have recognized as constitutional for more than 100 years.

If schools couldn't require measles vaccinations, how many thousands of students would still catch the disease every year? How many would die?

More recently, the Republican supermajority called lawmakers back into a surprise, one-day session outside of our normal meeting schedule in an effort to further crack down on business- and education-based vaccination efforts.

They abandoned the attempt in the face of heated opposition.   

Why would  the party of absolute business freedom suddenly want to legislate the affairs of private companies?  

Though this life-or-death issue should never have been politicized, studies have indicated that party alliance has become an important factor in vaccine uptake, meaning that Republicans are more likely to get the vaccine when it's encouraged by another Republican.

In Indiana, a majority-red state, it's crucial that GOP leaders step up and work to create more understanding and trust regarding COVID vaccinations.

It's also essential given the vulnerability of rural communities, generally represented by Republicans in Indiana, which have lower vaccination rates and less access to hospitals and critical care.

In Indiana, every rural county's rate falls below the national average. When the delta variant was at its peak in the early fall, intensive care unit beds across the state were filled with COVID patients, largely unvaccinated and in critical condition.

Many of those in rural areas were the first to run out of space.

Without concerted, Republican-led efforts to reach vaccine-hesitant Hoosiers, it's likely that our vaccination rate will continue to lag. The GOP's continual resistance raises a larger question: Do Indiana Republican leaders want Hoosiers vaccinated or not? Do Indiana Republican leaders believe in life-saving science or not?

With many experts predicting a surge during the winter months, it's critical we reach citizens now or risk losing many more lives.

Democrat Tim Lanane represents Indiana Senate District 25, which includes portions of Madison and Delaware counties. 

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