Dermot Cole

Dermot Cole

The disconnect between Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska’s health care emergency was never clearer than at his rambling press event Sept. 22, where he once again demonstrated his inability to lead.

Dunleavy should be clear and unequivocal in his call for Alaskans to get vaccinated. He isn’t. 

When it comes to vaccinations, he vacillates.

Everyone in Alaska with any influence—starting with the governor and all elected officials—should be insisting that Alaskans get vaccinated now. 

But Dunleavy continues to send an unmistakable political signal to his anti-vaccination fans that he won’t press them. 

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has picked up on the same palaver, telling the assembly this week he’s “repeatedly encouraged Anchorage citizens to consider taking the COVID shot in consultation with their personal  health care provider.”

The wave of unvaccinated people falling to COVID is crippling state hospitals, stretching scarce resources and forcing impossible decisions about who gets what level of treatment.

This is a dire circumstance.

Dunleavy is not the biggest culprit in this mess, far from it. The nationwide Republican campaign of disinformation and lies about vaccines has successfully conned tens of millions into thinking the vaccine is worse than the disease. Alaska’s right-wing echo chamber is working overtime in a shameful attack on our doctors, nurses and health care professionals.

While the propaganda continues to spread in Alaska, Republican politicians—those who are not Lora Reinbold or David Eastman—stay silent or as vague as possible, refusing to confront the unvaccinated with the facts. They aren’t calling out or correcting the lies spread by Suzanne Downing and the Alaska Watchman.

Dunleavy ducked again Sept. 22 at a press event in which he mouthed support for vaccinations but always circled back to say it’s a choice, downplaying the urgency of the situation and saying it’s a matter of choice.

Here is some of what he said in a single hour, an exercise in waffling:

“We encourage folks to work at actually getting a vaccination,” he said.

“We’re going to continue to ask the people of Alaska to seriously consider getting a vaccination that’s readily available,” he said. 

“We still need individual Alaskans to give some serious thought about getting a vaccine.”

“Even within the scientific and health care fields, you’ve got folks with different opinions on vaccinations, on therapies, etc.”

“There are families in which some folks want to get vaccinated, some don’t.”

“We have the tools available to us that we were waiting for, the vaccinations, the therapeutics, So we know what to do, if that’s what we want to do.”

He asked reporter Nat Herz if Herz got the vaccination because the governor required him to get it? (Dunleavy has required no one to get it.) No, said Herz.

“You decided to get it. A lot of people decided to get it. We got out in front because a lot of Alaskans decided to get it. The vaccination exists. It’s readily available. I urge people to get it. I was ill. I had COVID, wasn’t fun. I also got a vaccination. I urge people to get it. And I have. But the tool is there, people just need to decide if they want to use it.”

“The idea that a mandate—mandate didn’t force you to get it because there was no mandate. You got it on your own because you chose to do it. And that’s what I think works best in Alaska.”

“Right now we feel if Alaskans give serious consideration to those that aren’t vaccinated to getting vaccinated and for those Alaskans that do get ill that they know how to take care of themselves with the guidance of their health care provider.”

“We believe that the vaccination is the tool. Again, I urge people to seriously consider getting it that have not gotten the vaccination.”

“Again, Alaskans know we have a vaccination. I’ve taken the vaccination. I’ve said on countless occasions that Alaskans should seriously consider getting the vaccination if they have not. I’m not going to berate Alaskans, I’m not going to yell at Alaskans. I’m not going to cajole Alaskans.”

“I don’t think it’s necessary to twist arms.”

“It’s the individual’s job to make a decision that I hope they make for themselves. A decision that a lot of people have made, that they give serious consideration to the vaccines. For those that don’t and are in consultation with doctors, that’s a decision that they’re making.”

He said people questioning his approach, “what they really want is for me to take my hand and twist the arms of Alaskans.”

“That’s not what got us the good results early on. And so we see a surge, we recognize it, it’s a new variant, Delta. We do see the surge abating, especially when we get more folks that are going to be immune, as we mentioned, through one method or another. Either through the infection—I suggest the vaccination—but either way there’s going to be more folks that have the antibodies for this particular variant.”

“We have a tool, a vaccination that can help tremendously. We have therapeutics, such as monoclonal antibodies. You want to talk with your trusted health care advisor on how to approach this.”

As he goes on and on, endlessly waffling and hedging and refusing to twist arms, Alaska hospitals are in crisis. The death toll is mounting.

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