Throughout the last century, public health scares involving diseases from smallpox to polio and from swine flu to H1N1 brought Americans to the doorsteps of public health experts, all clamoring to get vaccines that would guarantee them immunity from diseases that had the ability to incapacitate, if not kill (via The New York Times).
But thanks to the anti-vax movement, that’s all changed; in the words of public health expert Michelle Fiscus, “We have been disparaged, demeaned, accused, and sometimes vilified by a public who chooses not to believe in science, and elected and appointed officials who have put their own self-interest above the people they were chosen to represent and protect” (via The Seattle Times).
Until this week, Fiscus was the top vaccine official for the state of Tennessee. But her efforts to get adolescents vaccinated against COVID-19 got her fired and have also resulted in a statewide decision to halt all outreach campaigns for vaccinations for dreaded childhood diseases including measles, mumps, rubella, the flu, or the human papillomavirus (via The Tennessean).
Social media saw red over the news that Tennessee was ending all vaccine outreach
Social media was flabbergasted by the development with some, like veteran newsman Dan Rather, seeing it as a serious setback to disease control as a whole. He tweeted: “I am old enough to remember when childhood diseases — now controlled by vaccines — terrorized families, wreaking pain and heartbreak. This is lunacy.”
Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton also weighed in through Twitter, saying: “Halting vaccine outreach – including not reminding teens to return for their second #covid19 shot — is horrifying and I worry will have tragic consequences for kids, families and public health in Tennessee and beyond. There is no reasonable or moral defense…”
MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow’s tweet was succinct and to the point. “They’re now, like, pro-polio?” she wrote as she shared the report on the cessation of the state’s vaccine outreach. One social media user responded to Maddow’s tweet, writing, “And pro-Tetanus, FLU, Diphtheria, Hepatitis B, Pertussis, Mumps, Measles, & Rubella! Feels to me like we’ve entered the age of the social media driven Dunning- Kruger Effect where those who are incompetent have little insight into their incompetence.’
Conservative commentators defended the halt
Yet there were those who sought to defend the action, like Fox News personality Tomi Lahren who tweeted “I support Tennessee’s decision to stop pushing the experimental COVID vaccine on minors. Young people are at LOW risk for COVID and we still don’t know the side effects and potential long term side effects of this vaccine. Stop the incessant push!!!” Trump acolyte Ben Shapiro also attempted to explain the move, tweeting. “Tennessee’s entire goal is to do vaccine outreach to parents rather than directly to children, btw, because of desire for parental consent.”
But vaccine hesitancy in Tennessee runs high, particularly in the rural parts of the state. According to WMC 5, Tennessee has seen a 400% increase in COVID-19 cases and, as of July 13, Tennessee is now the number one state in the country for the largest spike in coronavirus cases. Vaccine resistance is strongest among those who are white, rural, Republican, and evangelical Christian. Many believe the vaccine is part of a wider government plot (via The New York Times).
What the state has to come to terms with now is what doctors are saying about COVID casualties. “What you’ve got, is the people who’ve been vaccinated are not the ones who are going in the hospital and dying,” Jeff Warren, a doctor of the Memphis-Shelby County COVID Task Force, told WMC 5. All he can do now is urge people to get the shot.
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