Earlier this week, Governor Greg Abbott continued to undermine vaccination efforts by updating his previous executive order to now even include vaccines that have gained full FDA approval. His order prohibits any state agency or local government from mandating vaccines to any person, presumably including employees, or requiring proof of vaccination as a condition to providing any service. The order also prohibits any private business that receives “public funds through any means,” which, of course, includes the vast majority of businesses in the State, from requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of providing any service. But it does not appear to prohibit private businesses from requiring their employees to be vaccinated.
Laying aside whether King Greg I has the power to issue such a sweeping order, a question he seemed to tacitly acknowledge by adding the issue to the Legislative Special Session, this order could have dire consequences. For example, the order would include any public health hospitals in the state, such as the Harris County Hospital District, from requiring their employees to be vaccinated, something that has been recommended by over 50 health professional associations and has been done by nearly all of the major healthcare organizations in the State. As a side note, my sources in the Texas Medical Center tell me that Abbott pressured those institutions to not adopt a vaccine mandate for their employees.
Locally, County Judge Hidalgo, yesterday in the Commissioners Court meeting, doubled down on her decision to dole out $11 million to a Democratic political operative to promote vaccinations. When challenged on the contract by fellow members of the Court, Hidalgo adopted the good-offense-is-the-best-defense strategy with an angry response, but failed to address any of the substantive questions about the contract.
In some ways, I find the prospect that Hidalgo actually believes this contract is the best way to spend $11 million to promote vaccines more frightening than the explanation that is just ordinary payola. If she really believes this is the best way to spend $11 million to get ore be people vaccinated, it would betray a stunning level of administrative incompetence. Without any serious thought, I can come up with a dozen better ways to get vaccines distributed. The most obvious would be to fund an effort by our local, federally qualified health clinics to vaccinate their clients. They already have established relationships and the trust of many of those in precisely the demographic which is under vaccinated.
In a clear signal that Hidalgo was in full COVID politicization mode, her campaign, within hours of the meeting, blasted out this email, attempting to fundraise off the exchange in Commissioners Court.
Hidalgo then compounded her politicization of the vaccines by sending out a tweet that cherry picked daily fluctuations in vaccines to claim that her program to offer a $100 payment to take the vaccine had increased the County’s vaccination rate by 706%. For the last several weeks about 100,000 vaccines have administered per week in Harris County. Hidalgo’s program made no difference in the rate of vaccination in the County, and in fact, the rate actually declined slightly during the first week of the $100 give-away.
The bulk of the work to get people has been done by the Texas Medical Center institutions which have administered almost half of all the doses in Harris County. By contrast, the Harris County Health Department for which Hidalgo has oversight, has only administered about 8% of the total doses in Harris County, notwithstanding having millions of federal dollars to do so.
Officials at the TMC told me yesterday that approximately 90% of those currently hospitalized for COVID (which now stands at a new record) have not been vaccinated. As I wrote last week, it is clear from the data that vaccinations dramatically reduce the odds of being hospitalized from COVID. The single most important action our officials could take to end this epidemic and save lives would be to lead on the effort to get as many people vaccinated as possible. And if we had done a better job of that earlier, the current delta wave would not have been nearly as bad here, as the experience of other states is showing.
I do not believe that any level of government should mandate the vaccine across the board. But I do believe that private businesses have the right to decide how best to protect their customers and staff and that Abbott should butt out of their business. If someone does not want to work for or frequent a business that requires vaccinations, that is, of course, their choice.
But there are many ways to encourage vaccinations, short of government mandates, for the general citizenry. But Abbott and Hidalgo are more concerned about pandering to their political bases than ending the pandemic. Their conduct reminds me of my favorite quote about partisans:
“Party knows no impulse but spirit, no prize but victory. It is blind to truth and hardened against conviction. It seeks to justify error by perseverance and denies to its own mind the operation of its own judgment. ” -Thomas Paine, The Opposers of the Bank, 1787.