Saturday, August 21, 2021

Gov. Lee's office debunks COVID misinformation spread by right-wing nut jobs as cases surge.

by Rod Williams, August 23, 2021 - I am pleased to see Governor Bill Lee is pushing back against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories being spread by right-wing nut-jobs. 

When Lee issued Executive Order 83 which allowed out-of-state medical professionals licensed in another state to practice in Tennessee, allowed retired medical professionals to reenter the workforce, and did several other things to give the state the tools it needs to combat the Covid-19 virus, right-wingers went nuts.  All kinds of things were alleged about the order and about vaccine and mask mandates too.  I saw some of this on Facebook.

Citizens concerned about mask, vaccine, and EO 83 contacted their State representatives and these representatives relayed the concern to the Lee administration and Lee responded.  Here is what the Lee administration said, as reported in a Tennessean article:
  • "The EO creates 'quarantine camps' - FALSE 
  • Tennesseans serving in the National Guard will be used to round up citizens that are unvaccinated and take them to locations to be quarantined or vaccinated - FALSE 
  • Tennesseans serving in the National Guard will be coming to forcibly vaccinate citizens in their homes – FALSE – This is specifically prohibited by state law as well. 
  • This executive order is laying the groundwork for permanent lockdowns - FALSE
  • That Covid-19 vaccines are being given to livestock so it will enter the food supply to vaccinate citizens through their meat consumption – FALSE." 
While the anti-mask and anti-vax arguments are much broader than just concern over EO 83, it was that executive order that set off the most recent round of right-wing hysteria.

While most of the anti-vaccine message is being spread by conservatives, there is some overlap by the traditional anti-vaxxers who tend to be hip leftist.  There are quite a few Hollywood celebrities who are anti-vaxxers. Charlie Sheen, Robert DeNiro, and Bill Maher are among prominent liberal Hollywood voices who are anti-vaxxers.  I don't know who is spreading the anti-vax message in the Black community but there is also a strong anti-vax sentiment among Black Americans.

While there are other sources of anti-vax rhetoric and misinformation, most of it is coming from "conservatives."   Right-wing nut-jobs like Alex Jones and Q-Anon supporter Representative Marjorie Taylor Green are making the widest claims about the vaccine.  Many are framing the fight against getting the vaccine or even wearing a mask as a fight for liberty.  Marjorie Taylor Greene suggests people encouraging others to get vaccinated should be shot.

While other conservative voices, such as conservative talk show personalities may not go as far as spreading misinformation about the vaccine, they spread a more subtle anti-vaccine message, taking the approach that to mask or not to mask and to get the jab or not get the jab is a personal choice and that people with a healthy immune system may not need the shot.  Also, while they do not say the nuttiest things about masks or the vaccine, they often allow their call-in listeners to do so.  Everyone who calls a talk show does not get on the air.  A talk show host can let his callers spread the message he wants to be spread and he does not have to say the nutty things himself. Many of them are taking this approach. 

One myth spread to discourage people from getting the vaccine is that it is derived from aborted fetuses and that if one is pro-life one can not in good conscience get the vaccine.  This is simply not true. Like many lies, there is a grain of truth to this but this is a very small grain.  The development of the vaccine used two human cell lines developed from fetal tissue, one originating in 1972 and one in 1985 (link). No babies are being killed to make the Covid-19 vaccines. 

I think there is room for reasonable people to disagree about things like masking policies and how long shutdowns should last and how strict restrictions should be. Also, I think there is room for different people to accept different levels of risk.  I have not been the most cautious of people during this crisis.  Just Monday of this week, I went to lower Broadway and set in a bar and drank and talked and sang.  I know the virus has mutated and this might be risky behavior.  I, however, have always been less risk-averse than my siblings and many people I know.  In third-world counties, I eat street food from vendors and I am pretty sure they don't have safety inspections for those food carts.  I ride a bicycle without a helmet.  I don't jump out of airplanes for fun, but I respect those who do. 

I may go back into lockdown if the threat increases, but not yet.  If some are more cautious than I and are observing strict lockdown now, then I am not going to ridicule them or shame them.  If they feel that because I am not as strict as they are, that it is a risk to their health to associate with me, then I respect that decision.  While this is a public health crisis, I do think that to a certain extent, the decision of how to respond to it is still a personal decision. 

There are things about the response to this crisis that concern me. I am concerned when the government can order a church not to hold services.  A pandemic should not serve to repeal the First Amendment. I also think that minors should not be given the vaccine without a parent's consent. I also point out hypocrisy when I see it.  When the BLM mass demonstrations and riots occurred last year, the city of Nashville did not try to enforce mask or social distancing policies on BLM activists but at the same time imposed bans on other outdoor gatherings and enforced social distancing on tourists on lower Broadway.  While the Federal government imposes restrictions and attempts to force states to adopt certain masking policies, it opens the southern border to hordes of unvaccinated illegal immigrants and disperses them throughout the country. These things should be criticized and pointed out. 

There is room for disagreement about policy and we should be vigilant that a crisis is not used to justify a power grab or a cover for imposing policies that can not be adopted through the regular democratic process. We need to be vigilant.  Government often expands and rights get trampled under cover of responding to a crisis.  That said, however, I am not going to second guess every decision made by the president, the governor or the mayor, or some legislative body in dealing with the crisis.  It is easier to criticize a decision than make a decision and in this crisis, lives are on the line.  I am going to assume most people in a decision-making position take their responsibility seriously and their motives are pure.  While I may on occasion disagree with the decision a person or a body makes in responding to this crisis, I recognize the heavy weight on the shoulders of those who must make the decision and I am going to cut them some slack. 

Myths, lies, and hysteria about the vaccine or masking or government policy should not go unchallenged.  I am glad to see Governor Lee respond to his right-wing nut-job critics.  I wish more Republican politicians and conservative leaders would respond instead of pandering to the deranged among us. 

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