Halfway into robotically reading her hour-long State of the State speech off teleprompters, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem promised “to protect the people’s right to a medical or religious exemption from COVID vaccines.”
She then raised her hand with the index finger extended to emphasize some particular idiocy.
“We will also recognize natural immunity,” she said.
The majority of the state legislators applauded, indicating they are not only Republicans but also foolish enough to endorse her fiction that people who have had COVID-19 do not need to be vaccinated.
A leading research bioinformatician at the Yale School of Public Health terms such thinking “irresponsible.”
“Contracting COVID once does not make you immune over the long term and certainly does not make you immune to new variants,” Jeffrey Townsend told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
Townsend is the author of a study published by The Lancet Microbe in October 2021 whose conclusion he summarized in a Yale News write-up.
“Reinfection can reasonably happen in three months or less,” he was quoted saying. “Therefore, those who have been naturally infected should get vaccinated. Previous infection alone can offer very little long-term protection against subsequent infections.”
The surge of the Omicron variant has been affirming that principle as people are getting COVID for a second or even a third time. Noem is not just wrong but reprehensibly reckless.
“The issue with that declaration is that there’s going to be many people who are not going to be protected against new infections, whether or not they’re new variants,” Townsend said. “Having such a declaration is not properly understanding the dynamics in this pandemic.”
He added that the present COVID situation “is as serious as it has ever been.”
“We’re going to have more people in the hospital with Omicron now than from other variants,” he said. “It’s already crazy and it’s getting worse.”
And as has been repeatedly noted by The Daily Beast, there is a possibility that a variant can arise that is as contagious as Omicron and as deadly as Delta.
“And the possibility of that variant increases with people getting infected more,” Townsend said. “The more people there are, the more different variants form and some of them, some very small fraction of them, are going to become new variants that are immunoevasive.”
One variant of the very small fraction of infections can become a surge if it can evade the body’s defense.
“And the immunoevasion will occur regardless of whether it’s vaccine or natural immunity,” Townsend added.
In other words, people who refuse to get vaccinated and give the virus more opportunities to mutate are endangering all of us, even those responsible enough to get the jab.
And in that lies ultimate fallacy in Noem’s disingenuous insistence that she is not anti-vaccine, merely pro freedom.
“Governor Noem has repeatedly encouraged South Dakotans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but she has consistently reiterated that this should be a choice,” her spokesman, Ian Frazer, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
But when Noem suggests that having had COVID makes the vaccine unnecessary, she is in truth encouraging hesitant folks not to get the jab.
And her resistance to a mandate is part of an image she is constructing of a cowboy-hatted, horse-riding, flag-waving champion of freedom who has led South Dakota to economic triumph amid the pandemic
“The strongest economy in America,” Noem has boasted again and again.
In truth, South Dakota ranked 45th in GDP for the third quarter of 2021 as reported by the Board of Economic Analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
That illusion seems to be part of her effort to be on the Republican ticket in the next presidential election. The Trumpian types have sought to minimize the pandemic from the start, and Noem has embraced immunity as a magical solution to the pandemic.
Back in May, she announced at a tourism event that South Dakota was about to achieve herd immunity.
“We’re very, very close, and I would expect that most people in the state feel comfortable conducting normal day to day life activities. We’ve got distribution levels that are very good and outstanding across the country… We’ve got people who had the virus and have recovered from it, and a lot of folks have the antibodies.”
By “distribution levels,” Noem apparently meant positivity rate. It was then down to 14 percent in South Dakota. It has spiked above 33 percent with the arrival of Omicron. Those who tested positive on Thursday included the 14-year-old son of a Sioux Falls businesswoman.
“When your kid’s sick as hell and you can’t get a bottle of cough syrup because Walgreens shut down, I wouldn’t call that freedom.”
The teen had just returned to school following the holidays. The mask policy there is in keeping with Noem’s no-mandate philosophy.
“None of the kids wear masks at school,” reported the businesswoman, who asked that her name not be used.
She said her son’s oxygen level had dropped to 92 percent when it should be 98 or higher. He was coughing so hard on Monday night that his mother dashed out to a Walgreens on 41st Street. She arrived only to find it had closed early due to a pandemic-related shortage.
“When your kid’s sick as hell and you can’t get a bottle of cough syrup because Walgreens shut down, I wouldn’t call that freedom,” she told The Daily Beast.