INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time in history, the president of the United States promised Americans “free beer.”
This isn’t one of those “Free beer … tomorrow” signs that adorn a few Hoosier restaurants and taverns. It was President Biden seeking to lure hesitant Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine after Anheuser Busch offered free brew to gin up vaccine rates. “Get a shot and have a beer,” Biden said on Wednesday as he sought to convince enough Americans to achieve what epidemiologists have termed “herd immunity” in an effort to put this pandemic behind us.
“Free beer for everyone 21 years or over to celebrate the independence from the virus,” Biden said, seeking that elusive 70% penetration needed for herd immunity. In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine opted for a “Vax a Million” lottery, spurring vaccination rates up 77%, or more than 68,000 per week.
Many of us thought that the Nobel Prize-level scientific achievement of producing a vaccine in less than a year that is up to 95% efficacy would be the way to get this pandemic out of our lives, our schools, our businesses, out of our stadiums.
But at this writing, Indiana has just 45.5% of its residents who have received at least one vaccine dose. On Thursday, the state reported 418 new infections (down from 6,703 cases on Dec. 4, 2020), 20 deaths, bringing the number of Hoosiers who have had COVID 744,474. There have been at least 13,329 verified deaths, making this the most lethal health sequence in state history. The steep decrease in infections reveals that the vaccine works.
Dr. Paul Calkins, associate chief medical executive at IU Health, told WRTV, “If you define it by what President Biden said is the goal of 70% first doses by the Fourth of July, we are not going to get there. In fact, we are going to miss it by a wide margin.”
According to reporter Steve Garbacz of KPC Media, most of Northeastern Indiana counties have yet to reach the 40% threshold. In Indianapolis, just over 35% have been fully vaccinated.
“Among regions that are currently boasting 50% or higher vaccination rates — with some parts upward of 70% of the total population — include the Indianapolis suburbs; northwest Indiana regions outside of the older, more heavily industrial urban Lake Michigan shore communities; suburban Fort Wayne; college communities including those around Purdue University in West Lafayette and Indiana University in Bloomington; and southwest Indiana around the Evansville metro,” Garbacz reported. “The areas that are behind are basically everywhere else in Indiana, rural counties, most of which are sitting in the 30% range for vaccinations.”
Politico reported something I’ve touched on before: The politicization of this pandemic. On the day President Biden made his “free beer” offer, 12 states had reached the 70% threshold, most in New England, “and every one of them had voted for Biden.” The bottom five states voted for Donald Trump. That’s why Biden insisted that getting vaccinated “is not a partisan act,” noting that the first vaccines were authorized under President Trump, with Vice President Mike Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams among the first to be vaccinated.
Politico quoted Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, who noted that while Mississippi ranked 50th in the COVID vaccine at 34%, it has one of the highest MMR vaccination rates in the U.S.
Donald Trump defeated Biden 57-43% in Mississippi.
Part of the dynamic in play is something that U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz told me last month, that the Food & Drug Administration had OK’d “emergency approval” for this vaccine. Moderna just sought full approval from the FDA this week.
Terre Haute attorney James Bopp, Jr., representing The IU Family for Choice, not Mandates, Inc., filed a public records request with Indiana University regarding the school’s COVID-19 mandate for the upcoming fall semester. That records request came after 19 Indiana House Republicans and more than 20 Senate Republicans asked Gov. Eric Holcomb to intervene in IU’s mandate, which has since been modified.
“Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for IU students, faculty and staff with appropriate exemptions continues the university’s comprehensive science and public health-driven approach to managing and mitigating the pandemic on our campuses,” IU President Michael McRobbie said in a statement. “Throughout the pandemic our paramount concern has been ensuring the health and safety of the IU community. This requirement will make a ‘return to normal’ a reality for the fall semester.”
But Bopp observed in his public records request, “Our Constitution has made it clear that our government cannot limit a person’s freedoms without sufficient justification. IU’s mandate limits a student’s freedom to choose, demanding administration of an experimental drug or being barred from admission. And, even if a student gets an exemption, IU imposes severe restrictions on that student, including a mask mandate, frequent testing, and limits on leaving their home and on attending activities.”
During this unprecedented pandemic, the notion that wearing a face mask and taking a vaccine — both designed to protect the broader public — are now perceived by some of us as a limit on “personal freedom.”
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.