Commentary

Louisiana’s Steve Scalise is 7 months late promoting COVID-19 vaccines | Jarvis DeBerry

July 30, 2021 10:00 am

U.S. House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) (3rd L) speaks as House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) (L) and members of the GOP Doctors Caucus listen during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol July 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. House GOPs held a news conference to discuss the spreading of Delta variant of the coronavirus in the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Approximately 210 days after Congressional leaders became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer; roughly 200 days after 41-year-old Representative-elect Luke Letlow died of COVID-19; 124 days after every Louisianian 16 and up could be inoculated and four months after the 10,000th Louisianian died of COVID-19, Republican House Whip Steve Scalise had himself photographed getting his first shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Scalise told The Advocate he got vaccinated July 18 because it “was a good time to do it.”

Everyday since mid-December would have been a good time. Scalise could long ago have demonstrated leadership, set an example, helped quiet baseless claims that the vaccine was unnecessary or harmful. 

He didn’t.

The fact that he didn’t get vaccinated or encourage vaccinations when Letlow, who had no known health issues, died was a shocking abdication of leadership and another example of Scalise prioritizing partisanship over all else.

Along with every other member of Louisiana’s congressional delegation, Scalise signed his name to a Dec. 29 statement mourning Letlow’s passing but not naming COVID-19 as the cause, referring only to this “evil disease.” 

COVID-19 isn’t evil. Because it’s not sentient. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 isn’t evil either. When it finds a host cell, it replicates: not because it’s malicious but because that’s what a virus does.

The people who’ve discouraged people to take the virus seriously? They’re the ones whose motivations we must question. They fanned the flames of cynicism and mistrust during a deadly pandemic. If that’s not evil, it’s the next worst thing.

The number of Republicans guilty of discouraging people to listen to the epidemiologists, the public health experts and physicians is too lengthy to name. They went along with and took their cues from an unfit narcissistic president, who viewed the pandemic primarily as a threat to his re-election.

Now, some of them are trying to change course. Scalise’s announcement that he’s now partially vaccinated comes as other  leading conservative voices have begun recommending vaccines to the people who listen to them with cult-like attentiveness.

The day after Scalise got his shot, Fox & Friends anchor Steve Doocy, said, “If you have the chance, get the shot. It will save your life.” Later that day, Fox News host Sean Hannity said, “It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated.”

“It’s safe and effective,” Scalise told The Advocate. “It was heavily tested on thousands of people before the FDA gave its approval. Some people believe that it might have been rushed. That’s not the case. I’ve been vocal about that for months. I know their process has high standards. The FDA approval process is probably the most respected in the world.”

He’s been vocal about the safety of the vaccine for months but only got vaccinated 12 days ago? Scalise told the newspaper that he had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, suggesting he’d had a mild or asymptomatic case, so he thought he had some immunity. Medical experts have recommended that people who had COVID-19 get vaccinated at least since January.

Scalise didn’t listen to experts then and, even worse, he’s discouraging people from trusting public health experts even now.

Wednesday, 10 days after he had himself photographed getting a shot, Scalise tweeted: “First they told us don’t wear a mask. Then they told us wear a mask. Then wear two masks. Then get the vaccine and you don’t have to wear a mask. Now they tell us never mind, wear a mask. This isn’t about science — it’s about government control.”

Scientists, as a rule, don’t pick a position and stubbornly stick to it. Their recommendations change as the data change. Scientists admit when they were wrong. Scalise, to my knowledge, has never veered from a Republican talking point, no matter how obviously false it is.

Susan Hassig, a professor in the epidemiology department at Tulane’s public health school, said Tuesday that vaccines are necessary but it’s just as important now that Louisianians resume “wearing masks in public spaces.”

Scalise has a larger microphone than public health experts such as Hassig, and he should be using it to amplify their message. Instead, he’s using it to drown them out.

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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later NOLA.com) as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.

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