From Bill Freeman

Donald Trump and Gov. Bill Lee, April 2020

Vaccine hesitancy remains prevalent in Tennessee, which is why First Lady Jill Biden came to Nashville on June 22, encouraging Americans in the South to get vaccinated and talking about vaccine safety and effectiveness. Among those welcoming Mrs. Biden at the airport were state and local officials and country star Brad Paisley … but not our governor.

Since our First Lady took the time to visit out of care for our health and well-being, it seemed overtly discourteous — and a little embarrassing — that Gov. Bill Lee didn’t show up. Though he may have little in common with the Bidens, it’s common courtesy to extend a welcome. Even if he didn’t want to stick around to visit, his presence at the plane would have shown due respect and appreciation for the First Lady’s commitment to the welfare of Tennesseans, who have not embraced the COVID-19 vaccine. Lee’s behavior was a little too reminiscent of former President Donald Trump, and the governor’s action — or lack thereof — shows that he chooses to play politics instead of concerning himself with the lives and welfare of his fellow Tennesseans. 

The governor’s ill manner aside, the First Lady’s visit was appreciated. It showed the lengths to which she and President Biden will go to ensure the health and wellness of everyone in our nation. Mrs. Biden and Paisley appeared and spoke to a crowd at the Ole Smoky Distillery at 6th & Peabody in downtown Nashville on Tuesday afternoon. The event offered on-the-spot vaccinations and was organized by Kroger Health and the nonprofit Made to Save. Mrs. Biden reminded the crowd of the importance of the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, but noted that Tennessee is behind on vaccinations. 

Only 41 percent of Tennesseans have received at least one dose of vaccine so far — at press time, that’s the sixth-lowest percentage nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. reports that just 35 percent of Tennesseans have been fully vaccinated as of June 24. The most concerning aspect of recent statistics is that nearly all COVID-19 deaths occur in unvaccinated individuals, as reported by the Associated Press.  The AP article points out that this is a “staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day … could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.”

The whole purpose of the First Lady’s visits to communities across our country is to help boost vaccination rates. Though the Biden administration had originally hoped to see 150 million Americans fully vaccinated by July 4, it appears the country won’t reach that number until closer to mid-July, which is still a sign of progress. For Tennesseans, however, we’re not doing our part to keep the nation protected. 

In states like Hawaii and Massachusetts, more than 80 percent of adults are at least partially vaccinated. This is due in part to those states’ campaigns to encourage vaccination while explaining its safety and effectiveness. Those states also have government leaders who are on board with the vaccines’ importance. It builds trust within communities, and residents feel safe getting vaccinated. Some states are even offering incentives.

Tennessee has no such incentive or plans for any incentives. There is at least a campaign that would include public service announcements to encourage vaccinations. The Tennessean on May 18 reported that Gov. Lee’s excuse for not pushing out PSAs sooner was because the state wanted to wait until there was evidence of hesitancy, and until the time “when we don’t have any more appointments and when there is availability for everyone.” The same article notes that vaccines have been available for months and appointments have gone unfilled, and that “health officials have struggled to overcome communities’ distrust of the vaccine.” 

Gov. Lee himself has been vaccinated, but he has failed to encourage others to follow suit despite data supporting its effectiveness. The science is there, but our governor is ignoring it — just like he ignored meeting the First Lady’s plane. He’s placing politics over science — parroting Trump — and in doing so, is costing people their lives. The mixed messages Tennesseans get from the state’s leadership are not inspiring anyone to action. 

As Americans, we all want freedom of choice — I get that. But we also make laws and regulations that require compliance for our safety and for the greater good of our communities. Examples that come to mind include seat belts, child car seats, speed limits and motorcycle helmets. Laws requiring precautions like these protect both the individual and those around us. But the governor has his vaccine — maybe he figures as long as he’s OK, it’s OK if everyone else just goes along any way they wish. 

Despite the governor’s obvious disregard for the First Lady and the welfare of his fellow Tennesseans, the Biden administration continues to work diligently to get vaccination numbers up. They are speaking to groups large and small across the nation, trying to get everyone in America safe again. It’s a shame the governor doesn’t care more about Tennesseans than he does about politics. 

His actions — or lack thereof — speak that loudly.

Bill Freeman

Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.

Like what you read?

Click here to make a contribution to the Scene and support local journalism!