Dermot Cole

Dermot Cole

Alaska is paying a heavy price because of those who have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Hundreds of unnecessary deaths, thousands of unnecessary hospitalizations and hundreds of millions of unnecessary health care bills are the result. Most of the deaths, hospitalizations and extreme medical bills  are a direct result of the inaction of the unvaccinated.

Politicians have plenty of things to say, but no one is speaking for the dead.

The needless deaths and the preventable cases of serious illness have not created alarm in the minds of many Alaskans because they don’t see what is happening in the hospital rooms and funeral homes.

We have done nothing in Alaska to calculate and publicize the costs of lives cut short and placed in danger in the months since the vaccines became available.  We should be keeping track of where we are and what might have been.

Fairbanks, Mat-Su and Kenai have consistently had the lowest vaccination rates in the state. In Anchorage, 59 percent of Alaskans 5 and up are vaccinated. In Fairbanks, the rate is 47 percent, while it is 46 percent in Kenai and 39 percent in Mat-Su.

Jennifer Meyer, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Alaska Anchorage, asked the question on Twitter. “Why aren’t more getting vaccinated? Access? Anti-science misinformation and aggression? Time? Questions?”

The low vaccination rates are probably due to a combination of factors, including propaganda, right-wing extremists, weak news coverage and a failure of local and statewide leadership. 

Every community group should be pushing vaccinations, but almost no one is taking action. Politicians are hiding or bashful or worse. In Fairbanks, most of our local elected officials are pretending that they can’t do a thing. 

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and some doctors have stressed the need to get people vaccinated, but many local institutions have not.

The state health department, using federal and state funds, has made the case for vaccinations, but political leaders from the governor on down have been unwilling to challenge the anti-vaccination crowd or speak the truth.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is focused on whining about vaccine mandates. His “Get a shot if you feel like it” philosophy, which resonates with some of his fans, has no doubt led to deaths across Alaska. His mealy-mouthed approach does not communicate a sense of urgency.

In Fairbanks, we’ve had our share of unnecessary deaths and serious illnesses that could have been avoided, but public officials have not faced this reality or focused their attention at limiting deaths and keeping people healthy.

Perhaps the prime example of political negligence is in the proposed resolution from right-wing City Councilman Jim Clark that takes aim at local businesses that require proof of vaccination to enter. His resolution champions the delusion that the community has been “fair and efficient” in dealing with the crisis.

Clark claims in this resolution that “unity within the community is a key to moving forward” and “requiring proof of vaccination for entry into a business tends to divide rather than unify the community.”

Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly, now a candidate for the state Senate, claims that one of his accomplishments is that he “led a city through COVID.” Neither Matherly nor any other elected official in Alaska should be patting himself on the back, given how we squandered the opportunity created by the vaccines.

The leadership that has been lacking in city, borough and state government has been demonstrated by the owners of Lavelle’s Bistro, one of the best restaurants in Alaska, which is requiring proof of vaccination to enter.

“It boggles my mind why our city councilman Jim Clark would introduce a resolution to discourage local businesses from requiring proof of vaccinations to enter. This is akin to encouraging people to spread the virus. It is insane,” writes Lavelle’s co-owner Frank Eagle in a letter to the Daily News-Miner.

“If this pandemic surges, as it may given more indoor gatherings, we may get such a high hospitalization rate that we could be shut down again. Every business knows that would be cataclysmic. We need to wake up and realize that we’re at war with this virus, and if we don’t fight it hard, it could kill us or ones we love,” said Eagle.

Eagle is right. The resolution should be amended to urge businesses to require proof of vaccination to enter. That’s the intelligent way to try to unify the community. 

The best option we have in this pandemic remains vaccination.

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