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On vaccines, Alabama governor shifts away from 'common sense'

In late July, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said all the right things about Covid-19 vaccines. Alas, a lot can happen in three months.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey speaks during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala. on July 29, 2020.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey speaks during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala. on July 29, 2020.Kim Chandler / AP file

By late July, Covid-19 was taking a severe toll in Alabama. Infection totals were starting to spike, state hospitals were filling, and death tolls were headed in a tragic direction. The state's Republican governor, Kay Ivey, publicly pleaded with Alabamans to do the smart and responsible thing.

"I want folks to get vaccinated. That's the cure. That prevents everything," Ivey told reporters on July 23. She added, "Let's get it done. And we know what it takes to get it done.... Folks [are] supposed to have common sense."

The governor went to assure the public that the vaccines are safe, effective, free, and life-saving.

"[I]t's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks," Ivey concluded, adding, "It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down."

For those focused on ending the pandemic, her rhetoric was welcome and easy to applaud. Here was a conservative Republican governor in one of the nation's reddest states delivering an important message in plain terms. Even the Biden White House endorsed the Alabaman's message.

A lot can change in three months. The Associated Press reported this week:

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday directed state agencies not to cooperate with the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, where possible, and instead help with the state's efforts to file a lawsuit challenging the vaccination requirements.... Ivey signed an executive order forbidding executive branch agencies — which include agencies such as Medicaid, Mental Health and Human Resources — from penalizing employees or businesses for non-compliance with the federal vaccine mandate. If federal law requires the penalty, Ivey directed the state entity to take steps to notify the affected business or individual that Alabama does not condone the penalty.

It's a bit jarring to compare the governor's competing approaches. In July, Ivey couldn't have been more enthusiastic about vaccines. It was "common sense." It was "time to start blaming" those who resisted — because they were letting Alabama down.

But in October, confronted with a stubborn pandemic and evidence that vaccine requirements are effective, Ivey is going to great lengths to make sure her state resists the White House's vaccine policy in every way possible.

The AP report added:

In a statement Monday, the Alabama Democratic Party said vaccine mandates are "nothing new," noting that states and the federal governments mandate a number of things to protect people — including seat belts, restaurant inspections and numerous other vaccinations that are required to go to school or join the military. "What's wrong with a mandate that protects public health and keeps our hospitals from overcrowding?" the party stated.

That need not be a rhetorical question.