Asa Hutchinson is the governor of Arkansas, a deeply Republican state in which vaccine rates are low and covid-19. infections are correspondingly high. But unlike many of his Republican colleagues, he is urging people to get vaccinated and has been on a tour of his state, holding meetings with local communities but he is facing deep resistance. Thanks to Fox News, other right wing media, and Republican leaders who have demonized the federal government and Anthony Fauci in particular, some people seem to think that anything that emerges from the government has to be opposed.
Free lottery tickets for those who get vaccinated had few takers. Free hunting and fishing licenses didn’t change many minds either. And this being red-state Arkansas, mandatory vaccinations are off the table.
So Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has hit the road, meeting face-to-face with residents to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy — in many cases, hostility — in Arkansas, which has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. but is near the very bottom in dispensing shots.
[Harvey] Woods, 67, introduced himself to Hutchinson as “anti-vax” and said that he thinks there are too many questions about the effects of the vaccine and that he doesn’t believe the information from the federal government about them is reliable.
Nathan Grant, a 66-year-old retired accountant from Batesville, said he didn’t know of anything Hutchinson could tell him that would change his mind. Grant has resisted getting the vaccine despite contracting COVID-19 last year. He said he didn’t trust any of the advice coming from Washington.
“They haven’t shot straight with us. The CDC hasn’t shot straight with us. Fauci hasn’t shot straight with us. They’ve changed their stories multiple times,” said Grant, next to whom sat a fellow vaccine skeptic in a baseball cap that read “Trump: No More Bulls—t.”
Hutchinson is doing something right, by bringing along local doctors and asking people to ask their own doctors as to what they should do, but it is still an uphill struggle, not helped by the actions of some of his fellow Republican governors.
Studies have shown the vaccines to be highly safe and effective. But misinformation continues to sow doubts about them, especially in conservative and rural areas. Hutchinson has urged the FDA to give full approval to the vaccines instead of emergency authorization, saying that would address one of the arguments used by opponents.
At the forums, Hutchinson tries to empathize with the vaccine skeptics’ anti-government, anti-media sentiment. His message: Listen to your own doctors and medical professionals, not conspiracy theories.
“Let me make sure it’s clear: I’m not asking you to trust government,” he told the Texarkana audience. “I’m asking you to look at, do your own research, talk to people that you trust, and that to me is the right approach.”
The forum was enough to sway Teresa Cox and her daughter, who got vaccinated at a mobile clinic after the Texarkana town hall. Cox said she doesn’t trust Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top COVID-19 expert, but had confidence in the doctors who spoke at the event.
“What they said in there scared me,” Cox said. “I have been anti-vaccine all along, but I have also been on a ventilator three times, and I don’t want to be back on a ventilator. You don’t forget it.”
Hutchinson is not being helped by the actions of other governors.
The approach is different from that of other Republicans who are portraying health leaders as adversaries even as they try to tamp down cases.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been selling shirts and other merchandise emblazoned “Don’t Fauci My Florida.” In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson has suggested some health officials are trying to scare people into getting vaccinated. In Tennessee, the top vaccine official was fired amid GOP anger over her efforts to get teenagers vaccinated.
But Hutchinson has made some wrong moves and as a result his options are now limited.
Hutchinson has few tools left at his disposal after signing into law measures curbing his own authority to respond to the pandemic. They include bans on public schools and other government agencies mandating masks or requiring vaccinations.
I don’t know why he signed he legislation instead of vetoing it. It may be that the Republican-controlled legislature has enough votes to override the veto.
These people who say they mistrust the federal government and are opposed to anything that emanates from it likely have no idea how deeply their lives are affected by that very government in almost every area, and that the scientists working for the government have made their lives so much safer in so many areas. Hence they can focus on one narrow area such as vaccines to proudly fly their anti-government flag while benefiting from that same government is so many ways.