Keep Vaccinating the Kids!
The GOP ignores that we are already mandating vaccines for children in all 50 states.
Did you hear the one about the First Lady and the senator’s wife?
Without mentioning any names, Margaret Brennan, anchor of CBS News’ Face the Nation, brought up their handiwork in an October 3 interview with Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You yourself at your press conference this week encouraged parents to vaccinate their children. California's governor is mandating kids 12 to 17 get a vaccine to go into the school room after around January. Are you going to mandate it for school kids as well?
GOV. JUSTICE: No chance--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why?
GOV. JUSTICE: --No chance.
MARGARET BRENNAN: As governor, you mandate—-we looked: measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, polio, other vaccines. Why won't you put COVID on that list?
GOV. JUSTICE: Now, Margaret, you know, you don't have to come in so hot. You guys asked me to come, you know?
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know this has become a big issue for the Republican Party, which you are a part of in terms of framing this as a freedom of choice. But small children don't have freedom as children to choose whether or not to get polio or not. We protect them against that. Why don't you want to protect those children by mandating [Covid vaccine]?
GOV. JUSTICE: Margaret, Margaret, to think that I don't want to protect the children is ridiculous.
Uh, actually, it’s not. I wish I could say the inaptly-named Justice was some kind of outlier. He isn’t. He is typical of Republican governors across the United States, with one or two exceptions. They are ignoring that the highly contagious delta variant is leading to many more infections among children.
A little history: Betty Bumpers of Grand Prairie, Arkansas was married to Dale Bumpers, a well-regarded Democratic governor and later senator. Betty made childhood vaccinations a cause. In the early 1970s, she convinced Arkansas to require them for children to enter school. In Georgia, where her husband, Jimmy, was governor during the same period, Rosalynn Carter joined Betty’s public health campaign.
Arriving in Washington in 1977, Rosalynn revolutionized the role of first lady. When Hugh Sidey of TIME Magazine chronicled how big foreign policy decisions were made in the Carter White House, he reported that Carter would summon “Rosalynn, Cy [Vance, the secretary of state], Zbig [Brzezinski, the national security adviser] and Ham [Jordan, the chief of staff]”. “Note the order,” Sidey wrote.
Rosalynn set up a suite of offices in the East Wing (a first for the wife of a president), sat in on Cabinet meetings (which drew criticism), won praise for a diplomatic mission to South America, spoke up for the first time at a high level against age discrimination, and secured enactment of the first major bill addressing mental illness (Defunded by President Reagan but later resurrected).
One of Rosalynn’s biggest achievements—strangely ignored in today’s Covid debate—was to partner with Betty Bumpers and take the vaccination campaign national and later global.
In 1977, 17 states already had laws requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated before they entered kindergarten or first grade, thanks in part to Betty’s earlier efforts. Rosalynn and Betty spear-headed efforts in the other 33 states, with frequent visits and exhortations, bolstered by increased CDC funding Rosalynn helped secure in her husband’s budget.
A joke spread: Every place the First Lady showed up, kids started to cry. They were afraid of getting a shot.
The program was hugely successful. By the time Carter left office, all 50 states had enacted immunization mandates for children in public schools. That year, the CDC reported that the incidence of measles, mumps, rubella and other communicable diseases among school-age children was “at or near record low levels.” Millions of children avoided getting sick, and the number of missed-work days for their parents also fell sharply.
In 1991, a measles epidemic led Rosalynn and Betty to hit the road again, founding Every Child By Two, this time to urge states to extend the mandates to pre-K. Most complied. Through their work at the Carter Center, the Carters took the inoculation campaign overseas, where measles rates have also plummeted after schoolhouse mandates were imposed.
In recent years, others have continued Rosalynn Carter and Betty Bumpers’ work. To combat a measles outbreak in 2019 in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, New York State lawmakers required immunizations for religious schools, too. Of course New York Republicans opposed that measure, citing the rights of private schools.
Now, two years later, shorn of that argument and terrified of primary challenges, the GOP position nationally is that even public schools can no longer be required to protect public health.
Who could imagine we would now be in place where Republicans are willing to harm children and spread disease in order to fend off a primary challenge?