Alabama People 40% Vaccinated, Alabama Football 90% Vaccinated

A study in contrasts.

Kay Ivey, the Republican governor of my former home state of Alabama, is furious about the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant there and rightly blames people who won’t get vaccinated.

A fiery Gov. Kay Ivey made her most forceful statements yet today encouraging Alabamians to get the COVID-19 vaccine, saying “the unvaccinated folks are letting us down” in the fight to control the pandemic.

She also signaled she would not mandate students to wear masks when classes resume in Alabama’s public schools, saying that decision should be left up to school districts.

“Let’s be crystal clear about this issue,” Ivey said.

“Media, I want you to start reporting the facts. The few cases of COVID are because of unvaccinated folks. Almost 100% of the new hospitalizations are unvaccinated folks. And the deaths certainly are occurring with unvaccinated folks. These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain. We’ve got to get folks to take the shot.”

[…]

Calling the vaccines “the greatest weapon we have to fight COVID,” Ivey admitted some frustration in response to questions on what she can do to encourage more Alabamians to get vaccinated. Alabama is the only state in the nation with fewer than 40% of eligible residents vaccinated against COVID-19. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows just 39.6% of people 12 and older in Alabama are fully vaccinated.

In response to the question of what will take it get more people to take the vaccine, Ivey said, “I don’t know. You tell me.”

“Folks are supposed to have common sense,” she said. “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down….I’ve done all I know how to do. I can encourage you to do something, but I can’t make you take care of yourself.”

She’s mostly right here. And, despite being a Trumpist in many ways, she’s been comparatively responsible on this issue. While she dragged her feet on issuing a stay-at-home order, she finally did so in early April 2020. While she prohibited venues from requiring proof of vaccination to enter back in May, she has been vocal in advocating for vaccination.

But there’s simply no way around the fact that, when fewer than 40% of the eligible population is vaccinated, the refusniks are the “regular folks.”

And it’s worth noting the Nick Saban, the wildly successful head coach of my graduate alma maters’ football team, has not only been a vocal leader for masking, social distancing, and other mitigation measures from the outset of the pandemic, his players and coaches are among the most vaccinated of any program in the country. It’s not an accident:

The Crimson Tide is “pretty close to 90%,” Saban said in terms of players who’ve received the vaccination entering the Aug. 5 report date for preseason practice.

The conversation is two-fold, Saban said while noting they’ve had three different doctors speak to the team to “give lectures to our team about the pros and cons of the whole COVID circumstance.”

“First of all, you have a personal decision, which comes down to risk — risk of COVID, relative risk to the vaccine,” said Saban who recorded a May PSA encouraging Alabamians to get the vaccine. “It’s the same thing. We don’t really have a lot of knowledge about how this stuff is going to affect people in the future, so that’s a personal decision that everybody has the right to make.”

The team component also factors in here.

Saban mentioned the NC State baseball team whose run in the College World Series ended when there was an outbreak in the locker room. The New York Yankees has had two such incidents including one last week with All-Star right fielder Aaron Judge.

“Players have to understand that you are putting your teammates in a circumstance and situation,” Saban said. “We can control what you do in our building. We cannot control what you do on campus and when you go around town, who you’re around, who you’re associated with, and what you bring into our building.”

With [Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg] Sankey saying Monday that games wouldn’t be rescheduled if rosters were hit by COVID-19 outbreaks, that discussion takes on another degree of urgency.

“So every player has a personal decision to make to evaluate the risk of COVID relative to vaccine, and then they have a competitive decision to make on how it impacts their ability to play in games, because with the vaccine you probably have a better chance,” Saban said. “Without it, you have a lesser chance that something could happen, a bigger chance that something could happen that may keep you from being on the field, which doesn’t enhance your personal development.”

Saban, who contracted a mild case of the disease during his national championship season last year despite observing strict masking and testing protocols, is doing what makes him great: focusing on the details and what he calls “The Process.”

The contrast with the rest of the states’ population is just amazing. Oh, and ditto the cross-state rival.

[I]t’s probably not the greatest sign of things to come from Auburn’s new football coach that the most memorable thing he said on Thursday at his first SEC Media Days was that vaccines are a personal choice, and he’s not encouraging anyone to get one.

Has [Bryan] Harsin received the COVID-19 vaccine? He no commented that question, and also said he wasn’t going to discuss the vaccine with his team.

“It’s deeply personal for a lot of people,” Harsin said. “And so, that’s how we approach it: here’s the information, you make the decision.”

Bryan Harsin, the maybe/maybe not anti-vaxxer. Just great. Wonderful. Is he planning to run for the U.S. Senate, or something?

On a more mundane level, this message from a Birmingham physician:

Dr. Brytney Cobia said Monday that all but one of her COVID patients in Alabama did not receive the vaccine. The vaccinated patient, she said, just needed a little oxygen and is expected to fully recover. Some of the others are dying.

“I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections,” wrote Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, in an emotional Facebook post Sunday. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

[…]

For the first year and a half of the pandemic, Cobia and hundreds of other Alabama physicians caring for critically ill COVID-19 patients worked themselves to the bone trying to save as many as possible.

“Back in 2020 and early 2021, when the vaccine wasn’t available, it was just tragedy after tragedy after tragedy,” Cobia told AL.com this week. “You know, so many people that did all the right things, and yet still came in, and were critically ill and died.”

[…]

“A few days later when I call time of death,” continued Cobia on Facebook, “I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same.”

“They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.”

More than 11,400 Alabamians have died of COVID so far, but midway through 2021, caring for COVID patients is a different story than it was in the beginning. Cobia said it’s different mentally and emotionally to care for someone who could have prevented their disease but chose not to.

Indeed it is.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott F. says:

    Kay Ivey isn’t helping her cause with her inconsistency. You can require indoor masking and allow vaccination passports while still leaving the decision to vaccinate to the individual. It’s called incentivizing. Saban’s got it exactly right when he points to ability to compete as a factor in one’s decision to vaccinate or not. If someone can’t see the costs of their obstinate behavior, you need to underline it for them.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “It’s deeply personal for a lot of people,” Harsin said. “And so, that’s how we approach it: here’s the information, you make the decision.”

    It’s illuminating that it never occurs to any of these idiots that it might be deeply personal to team members who have no choice as to whether they play with Covid Larry or not.

    “Like your limited scholarship? Play.”

    5
  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    So let me get this straight: she continues to refuse to do anything within her power to solve the problem and instead blames it all on “the media”, and you think that qualifies as “mostly right”?

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  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick.

    “[COVID19]’s not hurting the people [it] needs to be” /sarc

    3
  5. “It’s deeply personal for a lot of people,”

    While I will allow that apparently some people have decided it is a “deeply personal” issue, I am more than a bit dumbfounded that the question “did you take a Covid vaccine” are treated by some as if they were being asked about their preferred sexual positions.

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  6. @Scott F.: Ivery has been better than some (such as Kemp and DeSantis). But the notion that she and the state government simply don’t know what to do is incorrect.

    They don’t want to allow vaccine passports (see what just happened in France on that count).

    They don’t want to run any kind of lottery or incentive program.

    Etc.

    Hell, if they could just require vaccines to attend college football games that would up the percentages in the state quite a bit. (and I am not joking)

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  7. I will say that the political opposition in the state by a lot of people is real and I am sure that is influencing her behavior.

    (An observation, not an excuse).

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  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Stormy Dragon: 50.0001% is still “mostly.”

  9. grumpy realist says:

    Let them get COVID and die. If these idiots are too stupid to take advantage of the protection that is available, that’s on them.

    2
  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Hell, if they could just require vaccines to attend college football games that would up the percentages in the state quite a bit. (and I am not joking)”

    I don’t think that anybody thinks you are, but taking that action would probably involve a protracted legal battle that might go all the way to Federal Court level.

    1
  11. @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    but taking that action would probably involve a protracted legal battle that might go all the way to Federal Court level.

    It is hard to say (although do I think someone in this state would sue? Sure). There are a number of universities across the country requiring the vaccine–and should/once the FDA moves it out of “experimental” status the lawsuit issue should be moot given the other vaccines schools already require.

    Of course, at this point, vaccine passports are illegal in the state.

  12. Joe says:

    It’s called incentivizing. Saban’s got it exactly right when he points to ability to compete as a factor in one’s decision to vaccinate or not.

    I would take it one step further, Scott F. and say it’s not just an individual athlete’s ability to compete, but he can sideline his entire team. And, frankly, that sports metaphor fits a lot of “teams” in society because a decision not to vaccinate is putting other people at direct risk.

    I don’t care a lot about SEC football, but I know who I am rooting for in an Alabama/Auburn game. Roll Tide!

  13. Teve says:

    While she prohibited venues from requiring proof of vaccination to enter back in May

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

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  14. CSK says:

    Given that Nick Saban is regarded as a god in Alabama, all he’d have to do would be to say “Get vaxxed,” and 90% of the population would line up for a shot.

    They won’t listen to their governor. They won’t listen to doctors. Saban they’ll heed.

    Jerks. Sorry, James, but people who worship a college football coach above all other beings are…jerks.

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  15. Jen says:

    But there’s simply no way around the fact that, when fewer than 40% of the eligible population is vaccinated, the refusniks are the “regular folks.”

    When I read the excerpt quoting Gov. Ivey this was exactly what came to mind. The ones refusing make up the majority in her state and a lot of others.

    It’s astonishing, absolutely breathtaking, that we have excess quantities of vaccine here and people refuse to get vaccinated, while people are literally dying in other countries and cannot get sufficient quantities.

    2
  16. Joe says:

    @Jen:

    we have excess quantities of vaccine here . . . , while people are literally dying in other countries and cannot get sufficient quantities.

    Frankly, we have the same problem with food.

    2
  17. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Yeah, I took issue with that, too.

    Getting treated for cancer, say, or having surgery to correct a hernia, may be a personal matter. The outcome affects you only.

    Getting vaccinated is a matter of public health. Given the risk is incredibly small and the benefits incredibly large, I see no reason not to make them mandatory.

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  18. Jen says:

    @Joe: Oh, I know. I grew up abroad and remember seeing children starving and suffering the effects of malnutrition.

    Food waste is one of my “constantly harp on” topics.

    Back to vaccines, I’m beginning to think a national campaign of “get both doses of your vaccine by [DATE], any excess will be redistributed to other countries, and will no longer be available” might be called for in the very near future.

    If logic, begging, lottery giveaways, and more don’t do the trick, maybe the thought that someone else in another country will benefit might work.

    1
  19. flat earth luddite says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    did you take a Covid vaccine” are treated by some as if they were being asked about their preferred sexual positions

    When asked either question, my answer would be “yes.” (Insert snark emoji here).

    But seriously, why she couldn’t get Sabin on the podium to just say, “Folks, get your ***** shots, you morons?”

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: I suspect that he doesn’t have as much pull as you might believe. He’s did “a May PSA encouraging Alabamians to get the vaccine” and it didn’t move the needle that much.

    1
  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: @Just nutha ignint cracker: [should have added] Which, of course, makes Alabamians even bigger jerks than you believe they are.

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Joe: And clean water and access to education and economic opportunity (which, if you think for a second, is really pathetic, all things considered) and…

  23. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Yeah; I may have gone a bit overboard with that comment, but I’ve always found the southern (and midwestern, in some of those states) fanatical obsession with college football a bit bizarre. A few years ago, someone at OTB linked to an article about Saban, and several people interviewed for it referred to him as “god.” That struck me as very strange; I suspect that 95% of northeasterners couldn’t name the coaches at any college or university.

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  24. Jax says:

    @CSK: I feel the same way about sports in general. I do not understand it. The fandom, the obsession, playing, or wanting to go watch other people play whichever sport.

    I recently found myself roped into being an Admin for a local Facebook drone group, the other two Admin’s are men, and all they want to do is set up races and courses and see who’s drone is fastest! None of the ladies who have liked the group are interested in that shit, I mean, two of the responses were “Why would I purposely try to crash my drone?!” and “I just like to fly around and look at stuff.”

    Same. 😛

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  25. Modulo Myself says:

    @CSK:

    I was driving through Alabama once long ago with my brother. This was after Mardi Gras and we were both completely hungover. The radio had this talk show where these two guys were talking about liberals and pansies or something–I can’t remember exactly. But it went on and on and it took us some time in our state to realize they were talking about local HS football programs and coaches and not actual politics. It was very funny.

    That said about the south–I grew up in PA and was eyeball deep in Penn State football lore. Witnessing grown adults who are not idiots defend Joe Paterno was a precursor to Trump, to be honest. The guy was told point-blank that his defensive coordinator was raping a 12-year old boy in a shower and he did nothing, and he’s still a hero to these people.

    4
  26. Jax says:

    I’ve only been to Alabama a few times, but the music caught me as striking the mood I did find among the people while I was there.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Liy7FQ9C6-4

  27. de stijl says:

    @Jax:

    I really want to get into drone photography and videography. Envy you your rural lifestyle right now.