Commentary

Leadership amidst pandemic of the unvaccinated

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INDIANAPOLIS — Alex Azar, the former Eli Lilly executive and Health and Human Services secretary, played a crucial role in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine after President Trump initiated “Operation Warp Speed” in the spring 2020 as the pandemic shut down much of society.

Seen by many as a modern scientific miracle — getting this “Trump” vaccine from research, trials and then into the arms of hunkered down Americans within a year (though based on decades of research) — in early 2021 it was viewed as the key to fully reopening society. Now COVID is raging again in what is now being called the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

In a New York Times op-ed published on Tuesday, Azar writes, “I know the vaccines’ features intimately because as secretary of Health and Human Services, I oversaw their development, testing, approval and distribution from April of 2020 until January of this year. After leaving office, I watched with pride as vaccination rates rose through the early months of the year, and then with dismay as the daily number of vaccinations declined.

“Among the many debatable issues around COVID-19 is one unassailable fact: The coronavirus is nonpartisan,” Azar continued. “While the vaccines have had doubts cast upon them by politicians throughout their production and rollout, whether a person lives in a red or a blue state has no bearing on the vaccines’ efficacy. They work incredibly well, and more than 160 million fully vaccinated Americans are proof.”

And then Azar throws down the gauntlet to current officeholders: “Whether such skepticism is rooted in political misgivings, conspiracy theories or lack of accurate and timely information, there are still millions of Americans unwilling to take the simplest of steps to end this pandemic. That makes it incumbent upon all leaders and health experts to be honest about how safe and effective the vaccines are and urge vaccination.”

Several days before, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks had a different take on leadership. “I’m a congressman, not a doctor or a pastor,” Banks told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. “My constituents don’t elect me to tell them what to do or to preach to them. It was a personal decision.”

As pandemic maps showed a steady encroachment in recent weeks, the 3rd Congressional District comes in behind the state’s 44% fully vaccinated: Allen County 43%, Huntington 42%, Noble 32%, Adams 28%, Whitley 39%, Wabash 35%, DeKalb 35%, Grant 34%, Steuben 40%, Kosciusko 33%, Wells 35%, Blackford 37%, Jay 30%, and LaGrange 19%.

Banks’ style of “leadership” contrasts with other Republicans, while debates at school board meetings rage across parts of the 3rd CD over revived masking policy.

Gov. Eric Holcomb told reporters last week, “I would recommend taking every safe step possible, imaginable, doable to keep the kiddos in school. There are steps that schools can take, many are, as they go back, they’ve stated, about distancing, about masking. I want to see the EUA, the emergency use authorization, turned into permanent. We have millions who have been treated, the trials have been conducted … This needs to become permanent.”

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon told Fox59 last weekend, “I’m concerned in Indiana because the vaccination rate is relatively low. I think nationally, it’s about 58%. In the Congress, it’s over 85%. In certain areas of the country it’s high. The delta variant spreads more rapidly.”

In May, Bucshon joined other “doctors of the House” urging vaccination. “Getting the shot is the best way to end the government’s restrictions on our freedoms,” Bucshon, an Indiana Republican and heart surgeon who donned a white lab coat and stethoscope, said when he spoke into the camera in a Facebook video.

“I know the facts and I think it’s the right choice to make,” Bucshon said. “Each vaccine was tested on tens of thousands of people. They cut red tape, not corners. While I am a doctor, I am also Republican member of Congress and I fully respect that this is your decision to make with your doctor. Talk to your doctor.”

In Bucshon’s 8th CD, vaccination rates are higher than the 3rd, suggesting that even at the congressional level, leadership matters: Vanderburgh County 47%, Warrick 52%, Pike 47%, Perry at 45%, Dubois at 46%, Vigo 41%, Knox 40%, Posey 38%, Gibson 37%, Spencer 36%, Vermillion 37%, Daviess 26%, and Martin 39%.

It’s not “preaching” as Banks put it, but acting as a reasoned conduit to get credible information to constituents. With so much at stake, with scores of restaurants teetering on the brink again as the delta variant invades the unvaccinated; with school districts thrown into uncertainty, it behooves Gov. Holcomb and other state leaders to consider PSA-style campaigns like Bucshon’s to get Hoosiers to talk to their doctors and get vaccinated.

Azar observes, “We did not predict the politicization of vaccines that has led so many Republicans to hold back. I’m glad former President Trump got vaccinated, but it would have been even better for him to have done so on national television so that his supporters could see how much trust and confidence he has in what is arguably one of his greatest accomplishments.”

Azar adds, “The vaccines could be a victory lap for the Republican Party, and I call upon all party leaders and conservatives to double down on encouraging vaccination.”

 

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.

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