Nearly half a million dollars have been awarded to Tennessee farmers over the past couple of years for vaccinating their cattle against respiratory diseases and other illnesses. In contrast, Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who grew up on a ranch and refers to himself on Twitter as a cattle farmer, is less enthusiastic about encouraging herd immunity among humans. In spite of Tennessee having among the lowest vaccination rates in the country, Lee has resisted offering incentives to people to receive the potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccine.
Lee didn’t always oppose vaccination incentives. She is the owner of Triple L Ranch, which breeds Polled Hereford cattle. In 2019, the program for Tennessee began under Lee. Currently, farmers who invest in vaccinations are reimbursed up to $1500 per herd, having given $492,561 to farmers over the past two fiscal years, according to Tennessee Agriculture Department documents.
No COVID Incentives In Tennessee, But Cows Get Vaccinated
As a result, Lee has escaped a serious primary challenge from Republicans in his reelection bid in 2022. A full vaccination rate for Tennessee’s population is over 49%, compared to 39% for the national total. During the past three weeks, the number of COVID hospitalizations and infections has more than tripled in the state.
WBIR-TV reports Lee told conference attendees he doesn’t think incentives are very effective. The government’s role, he explained, is not to provide vaccines, but to make them available to the people.
Tennessee’s COVID-19 vaccine is available in every corner of the state, for free, and there is nearly no line to get it. COVID-19 is the perfect solution to the problem of incentivizing vaccination for livestock. While a veterinarian can offer advice on feeding cattle safely, the state continues to offer information and access to COVID-19 to Tennesseans.
The Ohio Vax-a-Million lottery, announced by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine on May 12 with prizes including $1 million and full college scholarships, received a great response from other states. Among them are customized trucks in West Virginia, New Jersey state park passes, and Arkansas licenses for hunting and fishing. Biden last week announced that the state and local governments can use federal funds to offer vaccination incentives.
Throughout the pandemic, Lee has resisted using either of those tactics and stresses that vaccines against COVID-19 are a personal decision. He stated: To help Tennesseeans make a personal decision on whether or not to pursue getting the vaccine, we encourage individuals to speak with their doctor, to talk to their clergy, to speak to their family members, to seek their advice because this vaccine will best help us manage this virus. Vaccination against COVID-19 was a non-publication, unlike his flu shot.
Moreover, Lee’s administration has been criticized for terminating the state’s vaccination chief in the aftermath of Republicans being outraged over the COVID-19 vaccination outreach program. At a hearing held in June, one Republican lawmaker referred to a vaccination ad for teens as “reprehensible,” while others suggested removing the agency’s funding.
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Several news outlets have quoted Dr. Michelle Fiscus’ positive performance assessments as evidence of political motives for her dismissal. The Health Department also needs to stop outreach programs for all vaccines, not just COVID-19. A new outreach campaign has since been launched, but only targets parents.
The controversy was initially ignored by Lee. Meanwhile, at a recent news conference, Lee backed Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey and her decisions, though he said he wasn’t involved directly with them.
COVID-19 patient and Sumner County physician Jason Martin is so dissatisfied with the state’s response that he might run for governor himself. Black, Lee’s spokesperson, refused to confirm and deny the governor’s family farm has received funds from the Herd Health program. But records from the Agriculture Department show no Lee family member received the money.