Herrell must stop the anti-vaccine rhetoric; it’s not the time for politics

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Republican 2nd District Congresswoman Yvette Herrell made news earlier this week for signing on to co-sponsor legislation that would withhold federal dollars from schools and universities that mandate COVID vaccinations before students, teachers, staff faculty can attend.  

Don’t fret. The bill will not become law. Filed by Republican Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, it has attracted 10 co-sponsors, all GOP lawmakers in a U.S. House controlled by Democrats. It’s “message” legislation that positions Herrell in the escalating cultural war over COVID. 

But it’s a dangerous time to play politics.

The more contagious Delta variant is sweeping the nation as schools and colleges and universities are preparing to return for the fall term. In just two months Delta has replaced the Alpha variant to become the dominant strain of COVID in the United States. 

Meanwhile, Herrell’s congressional district is home to counties experiencing significant spread of COVID at the same time they lag behind other New Mexico counties in fully vaccinated rates, according to a review of data from the New Mexico Department of Health’s Coronavirus dashboard, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York Times. (Vaccination reduces a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19 and protects against its most severe complications.) In fact, DeBaca, Eddy and Hidalgo counties are hot spots struggling with outbreaks similar to those sweeping southern states, according to data collected by the New York Times.

Like I said, not a good time to play politics.

I fully acknowledge I don’t know if Herrell believes what she’s pushing. Maybe she really considers “personal freedom” more important than communal health — that one person’s right to not get vaccinated trumps another person’s, and a community’s, right to stay healthy. To be fair, there’s always a balancing between individual and communal rights in our country. That’s part of the messiness of living in a democracy. But during times of widespread threats such as a pandemic, the status quo gets sidelined in the interest of community.  

That’s why you’ve seen judges at the state and federal levels mostly uphold public officials’ actions to protect the health and welfare of the communities they serve. 

And increasingly it’s why we’re seeing high-profile Republicans make public pleas for people to get vaccinated, including governors in those struggling southern states. 

But not Herrell. She’s fighting against the best weapon we have to beat the pandemic — increasing vaccination rates.

When I knew her in the New Mexico Legislature, Herrell was conservative but she did not strike me as someone who’d one day become a clone of conspiracy-believing, anti-vaccine Marjorie Taylor Greene. But perhaps I misread her. I have no sense of her these days. Perhaps she’s worried about re-election and knows supporting an anti-vaccine COVID bill that will go nowhere is an easy way to shore up support in the more conservatve 2nd congressional district.

Whatever her motivations, this is not the time to threaten money going to schools and universities during a pandemic. It looks reckless, and smacks of cynical politics.  

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