Tennessee has sent nearly half a million dollars to farmers who have vaccinated their cattle against respiratory and other diseases in the past two years.
But Republican Governor Bill Lee, who grew up on his family’s ranch and describes himself as a rancher on his Twitter profile, was far less enthusiastic about herd immunity incentives in humans.
Despite having some of the lowest vaccination rates in Tennessee, Lee has refused to follow the example of other states in enticing people to receive the potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccine.
Lee wasn’t always against vaccinations.
Tennessee’s herd health program began in 2019 under Lee, whose family business Triple L Ranch raises Polled Hereford cattle. The state is currently reimbursing participating farmers up to $ 1,500 for vaccinating their herds and has distributed $ 492,561 over the past two fiscal years, according to Tennessee Department of Agriculture documents.
Lee, who has so far avoided pulling a serious major Republican challenge on his 2022 re-election bid, has been accused of complacency in the face of the deadly pandemic. Tennessee’s vaccination rates for COVID-19 are 39% of the total population, up from over 49% nationwide for the fully vaccinated. The state’s COVID hospital admissions have more than tripled in the past three weeks and infections have more than quintupled.
At the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association annual conference on Friday, Lee said he doesn’t think incentives are very effective, WBIR-TV reported. “I don’t think that’s the government’s role,” he added. “The government’s role is to make them available and then encourage people to get a vaccine.”
In an email response to a question about the contrast to incentive vaccination for cattle, spokesman Casey Black wrote, “Tennesseans have every incentive to get the COVID-19 vaccine – it’s free and available in every corner of the state with virtually no waiting. While a veterinarian can weigh up safely raising cattle for consumption, the state will continue to provide information and access to COVID-19 vaccines to the people of Tennessee.
After Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine announced the state’s Vax-a-Million Lottery on May 12, with prizes that included $ 1 million and full college scholarships, many other states across the country followed suit their own incentives. These include custom trucks in West Virginia, annual passes to state parks in New Jersey, and gift certificates for hunting and fishing licenses in Arkansas. Last week, President Joe Biden joined the call for incentives, encouraging state and local governments to use federal funds to pay people $ 100 for vaccination.
But Lee has avoided using any of these tactics and has maintained throughout the pandemic that the decision to vaccinate against COVID-19 is a personal choice.
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients said Monday 3 million Americans received their first COVID vaccine in the seven days.
“We encourage people from Tennessee to speak to their doctor, their clergy, their family members, the trusted voices in their lives, so that they can make a personal decision about whether or not to receive the vaccine,” he recently told Reporters, “but we encourage this because it is the tool we can use to most effectively fight this virus.”
Lee was vaccinated against COVID-19 but did not publish it as he did when he got his flu shot.
More recently, Lee’s government has come under fire after the state vaccination chief was fired to appease GOP lawmakers outraged about the spread of COVID-19 vaccinations among minors. At a June hearing, a Republican lawmaker called an ad promoting youth vaccination “objectionable” and some went so far as to suggest withdrawing health department funding.
Dr. Michelle Fiscus was vocal about the political motives for her firing and shared her positive performance reviews with the press. Fiscus also called on the Ministry of Health to stop using all vaccinations for children, not just COVID-19. The department has since resumed contact, but says it is aimed at parents only.
Lee initially remained silent on the controversy. Then, at a recent press conference, Lee said he supported Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey and her decisions, although he said he had no direct say in them.
Dr. Jason Martin, who has been treating COVID-19 patients in Sumner County since the beginning of the pandemic, is so disappointed with the state’s response that he is considering running for governor himself. The Democrat wishes Lee were “excited about motivating Tennessee people to take a safe, effective, and life-saving vaccine,” he said. “It would help us defeat COVID, keep our businesses open and successful, and get our children back to school safely. ”
Black, Lee’s spokesman, wouldn’t answer a question about whether the governor’s family farm received money from the herd health program, but Department of Agriculture records show no one surnamed Lee as a recipient.
Dr. Uché Blackstock, MSNBC medical assistant, says vaccine hesitation could go away if the FDA grants the vaccine full approval instead of its current emergency status. After taking this step, Blackstock is suggesting governments and employers make it less convenient for people to stay unvaccinated – an approach that is already having an impact on hospital workers.