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Perspective: The CDC’s gift to the GOP

Nearly 60% of parents have not had their children vaccinated for COVID-19. We don’t want vaccines to be political, but politicized is what they’ve become

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Candalyn Mettmann holds her son, Ellington Mettmann, as Valorie Mitchell, a paramedic with the Salt Lake County Health Department, gives Candalyn Mettmann a COVID-19 vaccination.

Candalyn Mettmann holds her son, Ellington Mettmann, as Valorie Mitchell, a paramedic with the Salt Lake County Health Department, gives Candalyn Mettmann a vaccination during a free COVID-19 vaccination and testing clinic at the Tongan Methodist Church in West Valley City on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. The clinic was hosted by the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the federal government’s list of routinely recommended vaccinations for children. In so doing, they handed a gift to Republicans seeking office across the country. And Republicans were more than willing to accept it and ran with it immediately. 

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas put it most succinctly:

But a chorus of others running for office immediately made it part of their campaign messaging, as well.

From Lee Zeldin, the Republican hopeful in New York, to Christine Drazen in Oregon to Ron DeSantis, running for reelection in Florida but also flirting with 2024 presidential hype, the message is clear: No COVID-19 vaccine mandates, no matter what the CDC recommends. 

It’s not often we have clear data on a policy position right out of the gate, but on this pediatric vaccination, we do. How necessary do American parents find vaccinating their children against COVID-19? Not very. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Across the total of U.S. children 6 months to 17 years, approximately 58% have not received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The initial vaccine intake among older children and teens, the first group of minors authorized, was much more significant than those under age 5, who were the last group to receive authorization; of those, only 9% of children are considered “fully vaccinated” with both initial doses. Only about one-third of children between the ages of 5 and 11 are considered fully vaccinated. 

It bears repeating: The CDC has told the majority of American parents — almost 60% — that they have made the wrong choice in choosing not to vaccinate their children.

While the CDC and its defenders loudly protest that their recommendation is not a mandate, American parents are right to be skeptical, having seen what happened during the school closure debate.

The CDC made “recommendations” and shrugged off the responsibility that those recommendations carried. School districts, day cares, camps and other groups that serve children made their reopening decisions based on those recommendations. When their decisions were questioned, those institutions pointed the finger of responsibility back at the CDC, claiming they were just following recommendations. 

Taking a ride in the wayback machine all the way to last year, those who sat on the panel that approved the vaccine for young children were extremely clear about why they were doing it: To make it available to the small number of children who were considered high-risk, and the children of nervous parents.

One of the doctors who voted for approval, Dr. James Hildreth, went so far as to say that the most appropriate path forward for many children would be to do nothing at all even after the vaccine is available.

One panelist, Dr. Cody Meissner, seems downright clairvoyant with this musing during the debate about authorization: “I’m just worried that if we say yes, the states are going to mandate administration of this vaccine to children in order to go to school. And I do not agree with that. I think that would be an error at this time until we get more information about the safety.”

Appearing on “Face the Nation” recently, former FDA Commisioner Scott Gottlieb said, “I don’t think we’re at the point right now where we should be considering mandating this vaccine as a condition to attend school.” But by adding it to the CDC schedule, that’s exactly what is going to be happening in states and municipalities across the country.

On Twitter, Gottlieb explained further, “When these discussions turn political, risk is a campaign against mandates that won’t happen anyway can easily get blurred into a message against all vaccines; and what people take away from the rhetoric is greater skepticism and reluctance to consider any kind of vaccination.” 

Gottlieb is absolutely correct about the risk to trust in the entire vaccination schedule, not just that of the COVID-19 shots. But that boat is quickly leaving the port, and voters are paying attention. They realize there is only one political party trying to stop federal agencies like the CDC and the FDA from exercising unwelcome control over their families’ lives, and it’s the Republican Party.

We may not want vaccines to be political, but politicized is what they’ve become. And the two sides have staked their positions, and unfortunately for Democrats, the majority of Americans prefer to retain the choice that they’ve thus far enjoyed — especially when it comes to their kids.

Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for the Deseret News. She is a home-schooling mother of five and a widely published writer on politics, culture and Judaism. She is an editor for the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty.”