Federal vaccine mandate looms over the mostly unvaccinated state of Alabama

As COVID-19 cases fall across the United States, Alabama has yet to climb higher in the list of vaccinated states.
Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 7:48 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - COVID-19 cases are falling across the U.S., but Alabama still ranks among the lowest in vaccine rate. As the Delta variant ripped through the U.S., the federal government started a new mission to get more people vaccinated.

“It takes time with public health mandates, but eventually society says, ‘OK fine. I really want to do this and I don’t want to fight anymore,’” said Dr. Suzanne Judd from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

After the COVID-19 Delta variant filled Alabama hospitals and brought another wave of death to the state, Judd said she sees the virtue in a vaccine mandate. More than one month ago, President Joe Biden announced such an order, saying businesses with 100 employees or more soon must institute mandatory vaccination or testing for their staffs.

“It’s probably the only way we’re successfully going to get the numbers up,” said Judd.

While cases and deaths are dropping, Alabama still sits where it has for months on the list of state-by-state vaccine rates - near the bottom. Just over 43 percent of Alabamians are fully vaccinated. Only Wyoming, Idaho, and West Virginia rank lower.

Dr. Judd said misinformation and political motivations are partially to blame for the state’s low vaccine numbers. Judd said she tries not to tell unvaccinated people what to do, rather she tries to guide them to sound information that shows the vaccines are safe.

“There are things that we can fight about, but let’s not fight about the vaccines,” said Judd.

The Alabama delegation on Capitol Hill is not in unison on the proposed federal mandate. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) said desperate times require desperate measures.

“This is a life-or-death situation, and it requires leadership. And President Biden is showing that leadership,” said Sewell.

Sewell noted the pandemic still rages on despite lower case rates, with deaths continuing to take a toll on families across the U.S. The vaccinated Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) encourages his constituents to talk to experts about why it could be a good choice. But he thinks a mandate is going too far.

“I just don’t like the federal government coming out and telling you you got to do something. I know people, especially in Alabama. I know people in the south. You’re not going to be able to do it,” said Tuberville.

In the coming weeks, the U.S. Department of Labor is expected to finalize the rule mandating large companies to get their employees vaccinated.

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