Tennessee’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, if you can call it that, is going poorly. The latest state data shows only 42.1 percent of Tennesseans have received at least one dose of the vaccine; only 37.6 percent are fully vaccinated. 

Remarkably, even with vaccination rates like that — among the lowest in the country — the number of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all plummeted. This is good. 

Given all this information, you might think Tennessee’s political leaders would be getting out a pretty simple message to the state’s unvaccinated residents: The COVID-19 vaccine(s) are an incredible achievement, they are highly effective, and the more people who get one the better off we will all be. You would be wrong, though. 

Gov. Bill Lee got the vaccine himself in March, but decided to do it secretly for … some reason? Last month, the Tennessee Department of Health announced that it would reconsider its vaccine advertising campaign after Republican lawmakers threatened to eliminate the department because it was “peer pressuring” teens into getting vaccinated. Read that sentence again. 

Then we logged on to Twitter.com yesterday — no vaccine for that yet — and saw this from Republican state Rep. Jeremy Faison, the man recently seen singing “Happy Birthday” to a state“You’re welcome to the house,” he wrote in response to a clip of White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “We can go sit on my very cool deck and sip some sweet ice tea. We can definitely talk politics. However, you’ll not put a needle in my arm.”    

Wow, big Don’t Tread On Me Energy. Wonder what Psaki said to elicit such a response.

“The president will outline five areas his team is focused on to get more Americans vaccinated,” she says in the clip. “One: targeted community-by-community, door-to-door outreach to get remaining Americans vaccinated by ensuring they have the information they need on how both safe and accessible the vaccine is.”

It’s easy to see why it’s politically useful for Faison to act like he’s a reasonable man simply objecting to federal stormtroopers forcibly injecting the good people of Tennessee. The Republicans who run this state get really turned on by the idea of standing up to the feds, and it gets their voters all hot and bothered too. Unfortunately, what’s actually happening here is that Faison is lying to his constituents about a government plan to hand out some flyers about the vaccine. It would definitely be creepy and bad if the government was sending people around to stick a needle in your arm against your will. Good thing that’s not happening. Faison knows this, of course, as you can tell by his response to someone who objected to his first tweet. 

“I’m not against the vaccine at all,” he wrote. “I’m 100% against the gvt coming to my house to encourage it. There is no reason for the gvt to go door to door and push a vaccine.”

This response doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either, but at least it’s honest about what the Biden administration is planning to do. 

Faison and other Tennessee Republicans say they’re not anti-vaccine, just anti-government-mandates and “pressure.” That might be fine if they were staying neutral, but demagoguing on the issue in front of a population already hesitant about the vaccine isn’t much better.

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