Gov. Phil Scott is decrying “vitriolic and inappropriate” comments leveled at Vermont public health officials in response to the state’s decision to prioritize vaccinating Black, Indigenous and people of color.
After the state announced last week that all BIPOC Vermonters 16 and older may now get a vaccine, conservative politicians and national media personalities lambasted the policy on social media. Those included U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia., who in a Tweet quoting Scott’s announcement referred to the policy as “blatantly racist” — ostensibly against white people.
The response is “unacceptable,” Scott said in a statement Monday evening. “It is evidence that many Americans, and many Vermonters, still have a lot to learn about the impacts of racism in our country and how it has influenced public policy over the years.”
Reflecting a nationwide trend, Vermont’s Covid-19 case rates and vaccination rates have indicated racial inequities in health care access. Per capita case rates have consistently been highest among people of color. The same populations have also been vaccinated at lower rates than white people.
In announcing the new eligibility guidelines last week, the state said just 20% of BIPOC Vermonters had received a vaccine at that point, compared to 33% of non-Hispanic white Vermont residents.
On Monday, the Republican governor defended the decision to widen vaccine eligibility for people of color as a necessary step toward reversing those inequities.
“In addition to the greater risk of hospitalization among BIPOC community members, the pace of vaccination for these individuals is too far behind the white population,” Scott said. “These disparities are unacceptable to me.”
Besides Taylor Greene, conservative commentator Matt Walsh weighed in on the policy change in a tweet last week, calling it “unconstitutional and wildly unethical.” Some conservative media outlets echoed Walsh’s claim that the policy violated the Constitution. Fox News, too, published a story that yielded a flurry of angered reader comments about the policy.
Without providing details, Scott’s statement suggested that the attacks on the new vaccine policy had gone beyond social media chatter.
Recently, he said, “my office, the Health Department and the hardworking individuals getting us vaccinated have been subjected to vitriolic and inappropriate comments in social media and other forums regarding this decision.”
Scott’s press secretary, Jason Maulucci, clarified in an email that the governor’s statement was spurred by thousands of posts on social media — many of which were quote-tweets of the policy announcement, such as Taylor Greene’s — as well as “hundreds of messages and calls received by our office and the Department of Health” after the policy change.
“Most, but not all, have come from out of state,” Maulucci said.
There have been no recorded threats against Department of Health employees or vaccination workers since the policy was announced, according to Ben Truman, a spokesperson for the department. But like Scott’s office, the department has received a flurry of emails and calls criticizing the policy over the past week.
“Some of the comments, laced as many are with hate and rooted in racism, are upsetting in tone and substance,” Truman said in an email, “especially to the people here who work so hard every day to protect the public health of all Vermonters.”
Taylor Greene, an avid supporter of former President Donald Trump, is one of several members of Congress who espouse the debunked QAnon conspiracy theory. Of her tweet, Maulucci said, “the governor does not put any stock into the thoughts or comments from an individual who has spread disgusting QAnon conspiracy theories.”
Statements criticizing the vaccine policy for BIPOC Vermonters are especially unconscionable, Scott said in his statement, given the recent surge in attacks against Asian Americans around the country, the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer.
“Words matter,” Scott said. “We understand that these are stressful, uncertain times, and people have different ways of dealing with that stress. That is no excuse, however, to resort to hateful attacks on fellow Vermonters.”
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