“It’s the vaccine, stupid.”
OK, we borrowed that from former President Bill Clinton’s adviser James Carville who made “It’s the economy, stupid,” an exhortation to his subordinates in Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign to unseat incumbent George H.W. Bush.
We reprise it today as an exhortation, actually more of a plea, to Gov. Tony Evers to get off the dime and push state health officials to move at warp speed on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
We read with a little frustration this week that the governor “bristled” when asked why Wisconsin was lagging other Midwest states in vaccine distribution.
“If you want to compare, it’s fine, compare away,” Evers told reporters, saying it would be “a long time” before everyone who wants it will be vaccinated.
Evers’ comments came on the heels of state reports that, as of Monday, 266,675 doses of vaccine had been shipped to Wisconsin and only 85,609 had been administered. News reports said Wisconsin reportedly ranks 10th out of 12 Midwest states in getting a first dose of the vaccine to residents on a per-capita basis.
That, of course, brought a quick reaction from state Republicans. State Sen. Alberta Darling, a Republican from the Milwaukee suburbs, issued a statement saying Evers was “on the verge of yet another disaster.”
“The governor had months to prepare for this,” Darling said, “We all knew the vaccines were on their way.”
Darling expressed the concern shared by many Wisconsinites, who have seen family members and loved ones die or be hospitalized from the coronavirus and watched the death toll in the state climb steadily over the past 10 months — surpassing 5,000 last week.
We have hunkered down, sheltered in place at times, masked up, wiped down groceries and even books from the library and cut back on family gatherings over the holidays — all the while worrying and wondering when the vaccines will come and if we will be alive to get a shot.
We want a plan, Governor. A plan that lets us know what the pecking order will be for getting vaccinated, what the schedule is — whether we’ll be on the “list” for January, February, March, whatever. We want to know how we can sign up once our number comes up — whether it’s through county health departments, a CVS or Walgreen’s or our local hospital.
As Darling said, Governor, you’ve had almost a year to put that plan together.
Yes, we recognize that there are still questions over who should get the vaccines first — we had no problem with the notion that health workers, first responders and those in nursing and elder care should be at the top of the list.
But who is next? Teachers? We would hope so. Seniors over age 75? Or 65? Where do they stack up against “essential workers” — a term so broad that it covers more than 70 percent of all workers, according to news reports we have seen.
Arguments for protecting seniors rely on the fact that the COVID death toll lies heaviest at their feet. Arguments for protecting workers contend that is the best way to check the spread of the virus and maintain the economy.
Do we protect Grandma or our barista? Grandpa or our checkout clerk? And what of those who are incarcerated in state prisons and jails? Where do they fall on the priority list?
We would have thought these issues would have been addressed in the many months since COVID-19 appeared as we awaited development and approval of vaccines.
But that’s not the case.
While state health officials have begun giving shots to health care workers and nursing home residents, they are only now debating plans for the next priority groups. Police, firefighters and those over age 75 are likely to be in the next round, under federal guidelines — but the subcommittee of the State Disaster Medical Advisory Vaccine Committee is only now getting around to setting that priority and then considering the ethical and medical ramifications of the next two groups in line, dubbed 1b and 1c.
At their meeting last week, the committee said they plan to get a list of suggestions together — by the end of the week. That’s sure to be controversial, and result in some heavy political lobbying; it should have been addressed earlier.
We’ve been holding our breaths awaiting the hoped-for a vaccine for weeks on end, patiently and fearfully, and we want to see the plan.
What we don’t want is a situation like that in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis, at the last minute, issued an executive order allowing vaccinations for anyone over age 65 — triggering jammed phone lines, computer registration crashes and lines of seniors camping out overnight to wait for shots for as many as 12 hours.
That’s no way to run a railroad, much less a vaccine rollout.
Wisconsin’s plan should be as transparent as possible, and updated as the availability of vaccines here in the state changes.
That’s your job, Governor, and that of this advisory committee.
We would urge you to focus on this priority and take some time out from your ongoing feud with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, over COVID relief legislation — frankly, we don’t care right now whether the state should ban mandatory vaccinations; or if businesses are exempted from being sued if someone contracts the virus at their establishment (over which no suits have been filed); or the political struggle over whether the Legislature should have oversight over the state’s federal COVID-aid spending. Sort that out later.