Jerry Kremer

America fails when innocents suffer


I must confess that the older I get, the more time I spend thinking about all of the crises our country has endured in my lifetime. I was a young boy when America was going through the horrors of World War II. As I progressed from career to career, the nation had to deal with wars in Korea and Vietnam and the tragedy of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. All of these events had one thing in common. The people of America were totally united and determined to fight our enemies.
I think of those challenging days and contrast them with the nation’s response to the coronavirus disaster. If you look at a national map showing the vaccination rates of the states, it looks almost identical to a political map highlighting the red states and blue states. With a few exceptions, the states populated by a majority of registered Republicans have the lowest rate of vaccinations, in contrast to states dominated by Democrats.
If you look at states like New York, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey, the vaccination rates are in the 66 to 70 percent range. Most of the time those states support Democratic candidates over their Republican challengers. In sharp contrast, states such as Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, West Virginia, Mississippi and Alaska are in the 40 per cent range. All of those states are considered solidly Republican. While crowded hospital intensive-care units are a distant memory for New Yorkers, people are dying in record numbers in red states for the sake of partisan politics.
Not a day goes by without a story about some red state governor screaming about vaccine mandates and telling his or her citizens that it is their choice whether to get vaccinated or not for Covid protection. The irony of the state resistance to vaccinations is that all of their schoolchildren have been required to get a series of vaccinations in order to attend their local schools.
I contrast the craziness of these grandstanding politicians with stories from across the Atlantic Ocean. Recent reports from overseas highlight the fact that many of those countries are far ahead of the U.S. in vaccinating their residents. Portugal is a good example, because their vaccination rates tell an interesting story. According to the Wall Street Journal, close to 100 percent of people over age 50 in Portugal have received at least one vaccine dose. For those between ages 25 and 49, the rate is 95 percent. To date, 89 percent of the entire population of 10 million has had at least one dose. And Portugal’s high numbers are surpassed by the United Arab Emirates, which exerts strong control over its residents.

The owner of a souvenir shop in Lisbon, Portugal, stated the best case for why our red states should be pushing for their people to be vaccinated. “I need tourists,” said Paula Margues. “Otherwise I have no business.” Places like Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska need tourism to keep their economies stable, and they spend millions each year to attract visitors. Instead of pushing for a healthy populace, their leaders spend most of their days battling federal mandates and looking for ways to attract the approval of former President Donald Trump.
There is another ironic twist to the red state resistance to vaccinations. Most of the people who are dying of Covid are also their favored voters. While the overall death numbers are small in comparison with the Eastern states, red state governors are allowing their people to suffer needlessly because of government inaction and the numerous false claims of anti-vaccine groups. This is pure government malpractice.
I hope that in the not-too-distant future, the coronavirus pandemic will become nothing but a memory. But the partisan bickering over a life-or-death solution will be recorded as one of the bleakest times in the history of our country. Our citizens have every right to stand up for their personal beliefs, but not at the expense of millions of people whose lives were lost because politics got in the way.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?