Views from Kansas: Stop politicizing COVID vaccine

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Elected officials at all levels need to start right now on working to convince the public that the COVID-19 vaccines we’ll soon be able to take are safe. They’ll have to help us put disinformation aside and see that the only way we’ll put this pandemic behind us is with as close as we can get to universal vaccination.

For a variety of reasons, that’s going to be a challenge: Anti-vax conspiracy theories have many believing all kinds of untrue tales about implanting chips and “marking us for elimination.”

These vaccines have already been tested on thousands of volunteers and have been found to be both highly effective and to have untroubling side effects — at worst, amounting to a couple of achy days.

In the Black community in particular, there’s no mystery about why there’s a legacy of mistrust of medical authority, even as COVID-19 is twice as likely to be fatal for Black and brown Americans.

And since many Republicans have been convinced that the disease is a “hoax” or has been overblown, why would any immunization against something that either doesn’t exist at all or is no big deal be necessary?

We’re glad to report that when it’s his turn to be vaccinated, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has agreed to get the first of his two doses publicly, on our weekly Star Opinion Live digital show.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has agreed to be vaccinated publicly, too, when it’s her turn, just as former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have said they’ll do.

“The sooner Kansans get vaccinated, the sooner our lives can return to normal,” Kelly said in a statement to The Star Editorial Board. “I know there are some Kansans concerned about the safety of the vaccine – I want to assure them that these vaccines have been tested on thousands of people and that scientists have been working towards coronavirus vaccines for nearly 20 years. COVID-19 is a coronavirus so much of the groundwork had been done. When it’s my turn, I will get vaccinated publicly to reinforce the safety and the importance of getting vaccinated.”

She did strike this note of caution, and rightly so: “Even with all of this good vaccine news, we are still likely on a six-month timetable before the majority of Kansans are vaccinated. In the meantime, we must continue to wear our face-coverings, physically distance, use proper hygiene, and use the free testing available through gogesttested.com/Kansas. Keeping up these efforts will save lives, protect small businesses and keep our children in school where they belong.”

Republican Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran also said through a spokesman that he’s committing both to getting the vaccine and to getting it publicly when it’s his turn.

Not surprisingly, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s spokeswoman did not respond to a question about whether our COVID-MIA governor will do either of those things. But those he’s sent mixed messages about whether to wear a “dang mask” might follow his lead if he did. It’s long past time to put politics aside on a public health disaster that should never have been politicized in the first place.

Ideally, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Royals catcher Salvador Perez will sign up, too, to do just as Elvis Presley did when he saved lives by getting his polio vaccine on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1956, at a time when many young adults didn’t see why they needed to do that.

Every governor in the country is also going to have to stand up to the lobbying of special interests, donors and all of the others who are already arguing that they should get to cut the line for the COVID-19 vaccines that the states will be in charge of distributing in the coming months.

But it couldn’t be more important that they find a way to both hold off those who want to butt in line and encourage those who aren’t sure they want in line at all.

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star

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