When asked what more could be done to encourage Alabama residents to get their coronavirus vaccinations amid the latest spike in infections, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) had run out of ideas for how to persuade people in a state with the lowest vaccination rate in the nation.
She did, however, have one message for her state: “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”
Pointing to the nearly 10,000 new cases of the coronavirus in Alabama over the past two weeks, Ivey blamed the latest infections solely on the state’s unvaccinated population.
“Almost 100 percent of the new hospitalizations are with unvaccinated folks. And the deaths are certainly occurring with the unvaccinated folks,” she told reporters at an event for a tech company. “These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.”
The governor’s statements — her most forceful to date about the importance of vaccinations — coincided with a sharp drop in inoculations in Alabama. Less than 34 percent of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated, and nearly 500,000 people remain only partially vaccinated, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. Just 6,118 people were inoculated Wednesday, according to Alabama’s vaccine dashboard — a considerable drop from the record 45,181 shots administered on a single day in April.
More than 565,000 coronavirus cases and about 11,400 deaths have been reported in Alabama since the start of the pandemic. The state has seen a 70 percent increase in daily cases in the past seven days. Alabama is also seeing its highest hospitalization rate since April, state data shows.
Among those who have died of the virus, a vast majority were unvaccinated, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health. More than 96 percent of the more than 500 coronavirus deaths in the state since April involved unvaccinated people, reported AL.com.
Representatives with Ivey’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Ivey’s remarks echo the concerns of physicians and public health officials who have faced challenges in boosting vaccine confidence in the state. Brytney Cobia, a doctor at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, detailed on Facebook how numerous “young healthy people” have been admitted to the hospital “with very serious COVID infections.”
“One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late,” she wrote.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that it was not the role of state lawmakers “to place blame” for an increase in coronavirus cases.
“What we can do is provide accurate information to people who are not yet vaccinated about the risk they are incurring, not only on themselves, but also the people around them,” Psaki said at a news conference.
Alabama is already looking ahead to the school year. Despite recent guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that all children over the age of 2 wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status, Ivey said this week she does not think Alabama schools need a mask mandate to reopen safely. Ivey reaffirmed her comments Thursday, saying she is leaving the decision on mask mandates up to individual schools.
She suggested a mask mandate would be a half-measure compared with getting a vaccine, which she called “the greatest weapon we have to fight covid.”
Coronavirus vaccines are not approved for children below the age of 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I want folks to get vaccinated,” Ivey said. “That’s the cure. That prevents everything. Why do we want to mess around with just temporary stuff? We don’t need to just encourage people to go halfway with curing this disease. Let’s get it done. We know what it takes to get it done. Get a shot in your arm. I’ve done it. It’s safe. The data proves it. It doesn’t cost anything. It saves lives.”
But the governor admitted that aside from people getting the vaccine, she did not know what else could be done to try to get the state’s rising infections under control.
“I’ve done all I know how to do,” Ivey said. “I can encourage you to do something, but I can’t make you take care of yourself.”
María Luisa Paúl contributed to this report.