BERNARD COLUMN: Vaccinations must be promoted by MDs

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, February 22, 2022

By Jack Bernard
Bernard is a retired corporate executive

Nationally, it is the more conservative states whose citizens are refraining from getting the shots. Georgia and other Southern states are just not being adequately vaccinated, leading to unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths (see below).

Certain professions are looked upon more favorably by the American public. Healthcare professionals are viewed very positively regarding honesty and ethics. Nurses are at the top of the list with 89% very high/high, then MDs at 77% and pharmacists at 71%. One way to motivate the unvaccinated in reluctant Southern states is by getting “influencers,” like MDs, to advocate that they do so. But there are some inherent problems.

For example, the Federation of State Medical Boards’ made a recommendation to state boards to insert language in their policies and procedures indicating that disciplinary action could be taken against physicians who provide their patients with unsound, unscientific medical advice. To most of us, that’s just common sense. And our Georgia Board, which to its credit implemented the policy, is now receiving 10-20 complaints about physicians each month.

But amazingly, the policy is unreasonable to GOP leaders in other red states, for example, neighboring Tennessee. In October, Tennessee Governor Lee signed legislation throwing obstacles into the path of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners when looking at physicians giving unsound Covid-19 advice to their patients.   State Rep. John Ragan, a retired air force officer with no healthcare background, followed that up in November with a strong letter to the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners telling them to either delete the disciplinary language in their policy or “appear before the Joint Government Operations Committee to explain your inaction.” Now, that’s what any sane person would call a ridiculous approach by red state politicos. 

The national goal to achieve herd immunization is 75% with two vaccinations. The dozen worst immunization states for children 12-17 and adults 18-64 are all red, including Tennessee and Georgia. Compare Georgia to Vermont. Only 53% of Georgians have had two shots and only 18% have gotten the booster. But Vermont is at 80% and 46%. 

As of Feb. 20, nearly 2 million Georgians have gotten Covid. Over 100,000 have been hospitalized and 5,606 have died. Far fewer would have died if our vaccinations rates were higher.  There is plenty of blame to go around. Nationally, and especially in the South, we have politicians ignoring the CDC and science due to political considerations. So, how do we get folks in these more conservative states to get the shots?  Certainly, the usual processes (such as mandating shots for all students or certain employers) don’t operate effectively to get these Americans immunized.   

First, we must identify exactly who is not getting vaccinated. Then, we must identify new methods of reaching them. What we need is a fresh marketing approach, such as the use of MD influencers.   Medical professionals are and should be trusted when it comes to Covid-19. Not the talking heads and politicians. But I have seen no ads at all by The Georgia Medical Association advocating vaccinations. The same for the nurses, pharmacists and the Georgia Hospital Association. But there should be, even if the state pays for them.