An Arizona GOP official made unverified claims that COVID vaccine turns people into ‘potted plants’

COVID vaccine
A patient receives an injection of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

  • A GOP official peddled unverified claims that COVID jabs were turning people into “potted plants.”
  • Jim O’Connor is an elected Republican official in charge of power and water companies in Arizona.
  • He was attempting to convince company leaders to not impose COVID jab requirements on their workers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

An elected GOP official in Arizona is peddling a false claim that the COVID vaccine not only causes death but turns those who receive the jab into “potted plants.”

Jim O’Connor – a state corporation commissioner who was elected in November to oversee companies in charge of utilities like electricity and water – claimed in an interview with local news outlet the Arizona Republic on Saturday that the government was hiding numbers of vaccine-related deaths and serious side effects.

“I’m also aware through other information that many people who have taken the shot, many thousands of people here in the US, are deceased. And the deceased part is the good news. And please don’t take that out of context,” O’Connor told Ryan Randazzo of the Arizona Republic.

“But the alternative to being deceased after the shot, there are something like 40,000 plus recorded cases of people that are now potted plants. They are human vegetables. They’ve lost their ability to function,” he said.

There is no clinical evidence to support O’Connor’s claims, and it is unclear where O’Connor obtained the case numbers he cited of people going into a vegetative state after receiving the COVID vaccine. O’Connor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

O’Connor did not cite any database or official source to support his claims. But when the Arizona Republic pressed the official on where he was getting this information from, he referenced Ryan Cole – an Idaho-based physician who made false COVID claims in March this year.

The Republic wrote as well that several commission records indicated that O’Connor was attempting to discourage company leaders in the Arizona trade and utility industry from having their workers vaccinated. O’Connor told the Republic that he was concerned about potential job losses if utility companies in the state made it a requirement for their workers to be vaccinated.

“If people are willing to individually choose to get the shot, God bless them,” he said, adding that he did not want people to lose their jobs if they chose not to be vaccinated.

ABC News reported that O’Connor reached out in March to the leaders of several companies, in a bid to sway them from requiring that their employees take the COVID vaccine. These companies included the Arizona Public Service, the Salt River Project, Southwest Gas Corporation, and Tucson Electric Power.

ABC spoke to Mike Hummel, CEO of the Salt River Project, who confirmed that O’Connor contacted him about the COVID jab.

“We continue to see vaccines as a way out of this,” Hummel told ABC News. “What we’ve done is try to make information available to employees.”

Misinformation about the side effects of COVID vaccines has been rife – particularly among vaccine skeptics and anti-vaccine groups. Insider reported last week that some groups were circulating “death lists” and broadcasting screenshots of reports of disturbing side effects, pulling statistics from an unvetted vaccine database to warn others about unverified “side effects” from taking the COVID shot.

However, the vaccine database in question, known as the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), does not require a medical professional to verify symptoms before reports are logged – meaning that reports of deaths and adverse side effects are unverified, and may even be falsified.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reassured the public that the COVID jabs are safe and effective – and that adverse effects, including anaphylaxis and thrombosis, are rare.

According to the NPR’s vaccine tracker, more than 257 million COVID vaccine doses have been administered in the US. This brings the tally of Americans who have been fully vaccinated to over 112 million people, or 33.9% of the total population.

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Pfizer and BioNTech are filing for full approval of their COVID-19 vaccine with the FDA

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vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be administered to front-line health care workers under an emergency use authorization at a drive up vaccination site from Renown Health in Reno, Nevada on December 17, 2020.

  • Pfizer and BioNTech are the first of the three US-approved vaccines to file for non-emergency approval with the FDA.
  • If approved, the FDA would allow Pfizer to administer shots even after the pandemic state of emergency ends.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Pfizer and BioNTech are asking the Food and Drug Administration for full regulatory approval of their jointly-produced COVID-19 vaccine. The move would allow the companies to produce and distribute the shots even after the coronavirus pandemic state of emergency is lifted.

Reports that the companies were seeking full approval first came Friday from CNN and CNBC.

The Pfizer and BioNTech two-shot vaccine was approved for emergency use in December as coronavirus cases in the US continued to spike. Under a state of emergency declaration, the companies were allowed to administer vaccines to the public based on a shorter data span, per CNN.

About 170 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered in the US under the Emergency Use Authorization, according to CNN.

The process for full FDA approval works on a rolling basis, allowing Pfizer and BioNTech to submit documents as they are prepared. The companies have also asked the FDA to expedite the process, according to CNBC.

The drug companies are seeking a Biologic License Application using clinical data, CNBC reported. If the BLA is approved by regulators, the vaccine would be permanently available to members of the US population from ages 16 and up.

Under an emergency use authorization, Pfizer and BioNTech also have less control over their pricing and distribution. Full authorization would allow them to potentially charge more for the vaccine, according to CNN.

Insider reported in April that the drug companies were increasing production in order to meet a stated goal of 300 million doses by the end of July.

And most recently, on April 23, the FDA revised standards for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine along with a warning about a potential “very rare and very serious type of blood clot in people who have received it.”

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Moderna stock plummeted on Biden’s support of waiving vaccine patent protections, but that backing won’t have a material impact on the company, Morgan Stanley says

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Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine won emergency use authorization from the FDA in December 2020.

  • Moderna shares have dropped sharply since the Biden administration on Wednesday voiced support for waiving patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Morgan Stanley said it doesn’t see the US’s waiver support as having a material impact on Moderna’s business.
  • Moderna’s management had indicated it wouldn’t enforce its vaccine patent during the pandemic, says Morgan Stanley.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Moderna shares fell sharply for a second session Thursday after the US said on Wednesday it supports waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. The stock has now declined as much as 23% since Monday’s close after a 7% drop on Tuesday.

But Morgan Stanley said it doesn’t see a waiver materially hurting the biotech company’s business.

The Biden administration supports a waiver “in service of ending this pandemic,” even as it “believes strongly in intellectual property protections,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement Wednesday.

A waiver would allow other countries to make vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna without fearing sanctions at the World Trade Organization.

While the US’s waiver support generates “a negative headline, we believe the practical impact is limited,” on Moderna’s business, said Matthew Harrison, an equity analyst at Morgan Stanley, in a note published Thursday.

He said Moderna’s management had previously indicated it wouldn’t enforce its intellectual property patent during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the investment bank said it doesn’t believe the WTO has any mechanism to force Moderna’s management to teach other manufacturers how to make its vaccine, which suggests no change in the status quo.

“Finally, we believe any new manufacturing operation could take 6-9 months to scale, effectively limiting the impact of other manufacturers,” wrote Harrison.

Shares of Pfizer were off by nearly 3% on Thursday and BioNTech was down by more than 2%.

“You have this political pressure to share patents with every pharmaceutical company. Then you have the other side of it, which is these pharmaceutical companies need to be motivated to always do research and development. Even though there was a pandemic and a humanitarian crisis, there is still a cost,” Hilary Kramer, chief investment officer at Kramer Capital Research, told Insider.

“Whether it’s Pfizer or Moderna or BioNTech, they have a responsibility to their shareholders and they also have a responsibility to continue to have a pipeline of products and to know [that R&D] is going to pay off,” she said. “We need to watch that – that could have a greater impact on pharmaceutical stocks.”

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I’m a former hacker and I believe the current round of digital vaccine passports pose real security risks. But a safe, effective vaccine passport is possible.

international travel guide
Vaccine passports

  • Vaccine passports are not yet safe and secure enough to be widely distributed.
  • Many of the options available today present security risks for sensitive personal information.
  • To successfully implement vaccine passports, data-tracking guidelines, government policies, and online behavior must change.
  • Mary Writz has 19 years’ experience in the field of cyber security and is the vice president of product at ForgeRock.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I am a former ethical hacker, and because of my more than 20 years of experience in security, my friends and family often come to me with cyber security questions. On their minds lately is the question of whether digital COVID vaccine passports are safe.

The short answer is not yet. While I believe it is possible to build a safe and secure digital vaccine passport, there are serious hurdles that make it difficult to deliver an app that can stand up to the security and privacy rigors that would meet my, or my peers’, standards.

Anyone considering downloading one of the existing applications should proceed with caution – some of the options today present too great a risk to people’s identity. Many of these hastily-created applications can expose sensitive personal and health information, which can be sold and used in malicious ways. Tech companies need to keep working to create a safe digital vaccine passport.

A digital passport even a hacker could trust

Before we can debate the possibilities a vaccine passport can unlock, we need to address safety and it’s clear a new approach to vaccine verification is needed. Currently, the technology community does not have the right solution in front of them – it is more of a buffet of options, some riskier than others.

Ideally, companies should aim to create a single, universally-accepted physical or digital passport recognized by all governments and businesses while preserving our privacy and securing our health information. Think of it as the ultimate passport to life that speeds our return to normal when the next global health crisis emerges.

A universal passport could also include verification data for other documents we carry separately today, like driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, membership cards, and credit card information. But we cannot place big bets on improving access to the digitally-connected world without also investing in security solutions first.

Technical challenges and public buy-in

Technically speaking, the challenge will be to get a bunch of technologists to agree on a standard approach to vaccine tracking. A universal standard will require alignment on what constitutes evidence of vaccination or how data should be collected and stored from the start – without leaking users’ personal information.

Without a widely-adopted set of standards, people will be downloading myriad, potentially dangerous mobile apps to do things we all desperately miss doing now like going to a movie or a concert.

The problem with a fragmented approach is most people do not know how to spot a good app from a less trustworthy option. We can count on Google and Apple to filter out a lot of the garbage for us, but without checks and balances, it’s virtually impossible to ensure the digital safety of these apps. As non-technical consumers, it would be even harder to avoid being tricked into downloading a copycat version or an app that was not developed securely.

Additionally, even if the technology is sound and secure, some folks may not feel comfortable with vaccine verification apps initially. The reason my friends and family come to me for my opinion on the security of technologies is because they feel unqualified to ascertain if these applications are safe. For widespread adoption to take hold, we need time to educate citizens and get their buy-in.

In the meantime, if someone needs to use a vaccine passport now, they should only use a link from an actual source like a government agency, employer, or mobile carrier. Scanning a random QR code or clicking a link from an unknown source can be dangerous.

Government policy around vaccine passports can help

A potential solution for the cultural friction that could surface would be to enforce a government policy around vaccine passports, but there are challenges here too. Governments across the world differ in their ability to enforce such policies, and currently the US government indicates a preference to leave it to the private sector. Even if that position changes – or a public-private partnership forms in our country, like European EID schemes – it would take time to determine specifics surrounding vaccine passport enforcement and the infrastructure needed to stand it up.

Historically, legislation has not kept up with the rapidly-shifting technology landscape. In the case of approving COVID-19 vaccines, we have seen the government move quickly and partner with the private sector to help bring a life-saving solution to market fast. That same rule-breaking approach in developing new protocols that sidesteps traditional processes could go a long way in helping to deliver a universal vaccination passport. For example, the US could fund and steer a task force aimed at delivering a solution that encompasses thinking across policy, security, and user experience.

And it can be done. The tech community has solved hard problems before, like securing the internet with SSL, and they can do it again. But it does not happen overnight – it takes time, resources, and a mindset shift to find the right solution. If tech and government agencies work together, we can be ready to help society get back to the things we love faster, with more confidence in its safety and security.

Mary Writz is the Vice President of Product at ForgeRock. Mary has 19 years’ experience in the field of cyber security. Prior to ForgeRock, Mary held product and leadership positions at Hewlett Packard and IBM in domains such as threat detection, machine learning, penetration testing, security intelligence, distributed denial of service, and targeted attack protection. Mary holds two patents and a Master of Engineering degree in telecommunications.

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Apple employees will soon be able to get COVID-19 vaccinations at the tech giant’s workplaces

Apple store
Apple is working with Walgreens Boots Alliance to help employees get the COVID-19 vaccine at their work.

  • Apple employees could soon get a COVID-19 vaccine at the tech giant’s offices.
  • Apple is working with Walgreens Boots Alliance to help employees get the shot, according to Reuters.
  • Some other companies, like Cisco and Amazon, are offering on-site vaccinations to employees.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Apple employees may soon not need to travel very far to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

According to Reuters, Apple is working with Walgreens Boots Alliance to give employees the COVID-19 shot at their workplaces. A website is being set up for employees to make a vaccine appointment. The shot is voluntary for Apple workers, per Reuters.

Bloomberg previously reported that the tech giant offers paid time off for employees’ vaccine appointments as well as paid sick leave. Other companies like McDonald’s and Aldi also offer its employees paid time off so that workers would be able to get the COVID-19 shot.

Apple and Walgreens Boots Alliance didn’t immediately respond to Insider for comment.

Apple is one of a number of companies making it easier for its workers to get the shot. Last month, Amazon had set up on-site vaccination centers for warehouse workers in Missouri, Nevada, and Kansas.

According to Silicon Valley Business Journal, Cisco is already giving voluntary vaccinations at the company. A spokesperson for Intel told Silicon Valley Business Journal that it will soon be rolling out a similar program for its workers and members of their household in its Santa Clara and Arizona offices.

Outside of the tech industry, automaker company Ford and United Auto Workers has also set up on-site vaccination programs to employees in Southeast Michigan; Lima, Ohio; and Kansas City, Missouri, making it easier for some employees to get vaccinated.

“It has been a stressful experience finding a COVID-19 vaccine appointment in the area,” a quality inspector at Michigan Assembly Plant said in a press release. “Now that stress has been lifted with Ford offering on-site appointments for its employees. I can’t wait to get my first shot.”

The US has already administered over 200 million vaccines, reaching President Joe Biden’s goal for his first 100 days in office.

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Biden calls on all US employers to pay full-time workers for time missed due to vaccines

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • Joe Biden on Wednesday called on all US employers to give their workers paid time off to get vaccinated.
  • The president also reaffirmed his commitment to a paid-leave tax credit to help small businesses offset the cost of the time off.
  • This comes ahead of Biden’s upcoming announcement that the US met his goal of 200 million shots in 100 days.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden will announce on Thursday that the US met his vaccination goal of 200 million shots in 100 days. And on Wednesday, he announced new plans to ensure every American employee can get a shot.

A White House statement said that Biden is calling for every employer in America to provide paid time off to get vaccinated, which would include the time it takes to recover from any of the vaccine’s side effects. He also reaffirmed his commitment to a tax credit that will offset the cost for small businesses with fewer than 500 employees to provide full pay for workers who want to get a vaccine.

“Providing paid time off for vaccinations is an investment in the safety, productivity and health of an employer’s own workforce and their community,” the statement said. “No working person in this country should lose a single dollar from their paycheck to take time to get the shot or recover from it.”

The paid-leave tax credit was included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus law, and it ensures that “no small businesses or non-profits will lose a single dollar by providing such paid leave to workers receiving a vaccination.”

According to the White House, the credit will offset the cost for small businesses for up to $511 per day of paid sick leave offered between April 1 and September 30, and it will apply to nearly half of all private sectors in the country.

And along with the tax credit, Biden’s wants employers to help employees get vaccinated by making “commitments to provide accurate and timely information and incentivize all Americans to get vaccinated.” Those could include discounts for vaccinated people, product giveaways, or promotions.

Biden pledged in a March press conference that 200 million shots will be administered by the end of April, and on Monday, every American aged 16 and older became eligible for a vaccine.

“We have enough of it, you need to be protected, and you in turn need to protect your neighbors and your family,” Biden said in a video on Monday. “So please, get the vaccine.”

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Johnson & Johnson jumps as vaccine shipments to Europe set to resume after regulator says benefits outweigh blood clot risks

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A nurse loads a syringe with a dose of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in Athens, Ohio.

  • Johnson & Johnson shares climbed Wednesday after a European regulator found an overall benefit of the drug maker’s COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The European Medicines Agency did find a possible link between the vaccine and the ‘rare’ side effect of blood clots.
  • J&J said it will resume shipment of its Janssen vaccine to the European Union.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Johnson & Johnson shares pushed to a three-week high Tuesday, with the company restarting shipments of its COVID-19 vaccine to Europe after the European Union’s drug agency said its benefits outweigh the potential risk of a “rare” side effect of blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency said Tuesday it found a possible link between the company’s vaccine and “very rare” cases of “unusual blood clots with low blood platelets.”

The agency said a warning should be added to product information about the Janssen-branded vaccine but also said the overall benefit-risk remains positive.

Shares of Johnson & Johnson rose as much as 3.1% to trade above $167 each, marking their first time above that price since March 29. The shares had added about 11% over the past year.

The drug maker said it will resume shipments of the vaccine in the European Union, Norway and Iceland, and that it will provide updated guidance from the medicines agency and healthcare professionals to national healthcare authorities.

“We appreciate the rigorous review of the [Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee] and share the goal of raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of this very rare event to ensure the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment,” said Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer, in a Tuesday statement.

The blood-clot cases occurred in people less than 60 years of age and most were in women. The clotting took place within three weeks of receiving the vaccine.

The US recently paused the rollout of the Johnson and Johson vaccine on reports of the blood-clot cases.

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The billionaire scientist who developed Pfizer’s breakthrough vaccine has not sold any shares in partner BioNTech’s surging stock

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Ugur Sahin, co-founder of BioNTech, receives the Federal Order of Merit for contributing to the containment of the pandemic on March 19, 2021 in Berlin.

Ugur Sahin, the CEO and co-founder of German pharma group BioNTech, is one of two scientists whose efforts helped develop the first coronavirus vaccine authorized in the US.

Sahin and his wife, Ozlem Tureci, are the “dream team” couple whose company partnered with Pfizer to develop and supply three billion vaccine doses worldwide by the end of 2021.

The race among pharmaceutical companies to create and distribute their vaccine candidates was intense last year, with many seeing their stocks impacted by developments in clinical trials. Company insiders rushed to sell their shares, aiming to make profits off of their booming stocks.

Notably, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla cashed out 60% of his stock the day the company disclosed that its vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19.

But Sahin hasn’t sold a single share in BioNTech since February 13, 2020, according to a recent Forbes report.

Sahin, the son of Turkish immigrants who moved to Germany in the late 1960s, is among the richest people in Germany. But his family lives in a modest apartment near his office and doesn’t own a car. His lifestyle is said to reflect a simple approach to life, and he’s known for cycling to the office. His company is currently valued at $36 billion.

He grew convinced that COVID-19 would have a deadly effect worldwide as early as January 2020, Forbes said. His years of experience with the mRNA method, a safety mechanism that protects against infectious diseases, came in handy when he decided BioNTech would pivot to finding a coronavirus vaccine.

Pfizer CEO Bourla has previously described Sahin as a “very, very unique individual.”

“He cares only about science. Discussing business is not his cup of tea,” Bourla told The New York Times in November last year. “He doesn’t like it at all. He’s a scientist and a man of principles. I trust him 100 percent.”

With the development of BioNTech’s vaccine, the company’s stock has surged 900% from its 2019 IPO price. Sahin’s stake in the company is worth $6.1 billion, according to Forbes.

SEC filings show Sahin holds a 17% stake in BioNTech through a limited liability company called Medine. Amid a stock transfer by Medine to other beneficiaries, a filing in February showed neither the company, nor Sahin, had sold any ordinary shares since February 13, 2020, around the time the pandemic was just beginning to spread globally.

Read more: Goldman Sachs says buy these 19 downtrodden stocks that have badly lagged the S&P 500 this year – but have immense upside potential heading into earnings season

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Mississippians’ unwillingness to get vaccinated stems from a distrust of government rooted in decades of Republican messaging

vaccine shot covid Virginia
A nurse administers a shot at a Covid-19 mass vaccination site in Ridgeway, Virginia on March 12, 2021.

  • “States’ rights” has been a GOP rallying cry in Mississippi for decades.
  • With vaccine appointments left unfilled, experts are worried that no more residents will get the vaccine.
  • A fear of government intervention has crippled the state’s COVID response and vaccination efforts.
  • W. Ralph Eubanks is the author of A Place Like Mississippi and is a visiting professor of Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Ronald Reagan opened his 1980 general election campaign at Mississippi’s Neshoba County Fair, he proclaimed, “I believe in states’ rights … And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.”

On that distant hot summer afternoon Reagan’s message resonated with the audience since it was something they had heard before. “State’s rights” was the same phrase used to justify Jim Crow segregation, poll taxes, and literacy tests for Black voters. In the words he chose, Reagan showed that he spoke Mississippi’s language.

Reagan’s speech was also thinly-disguised racism – and uttered not far from where three murdered civil rights workers were buried in an earthen dam in the summer of 1964 – yet its sentiment of brash independence rang true with those who heard it.

Today the Republican party dominates Mississippi politics. After a period of racially-integrated governance from 1980 to 2000, Mississippi has now entered a second phase of disenfranchisement – much like the period that followed the two decades of Reconstruction – in which the legislature’s mostly Black Democratic minority has been locked out by the entirely white Republican majority. The idea that government can help Mississippians, with policies such as Medicaid expansion, is immediately dismissed. The same can be said about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has largely avoided government support and public health guidelines during the crisis.

Although the rallying cry of state’s rights has not been used to justify the way the COVID crisis has been handled in Mississippi, it might as well have been. The language used by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and those in his circle of Republican legislators echoes the belief that government cannot interfere in anything, even if it is during a pandemic that threatens the lives of every last citizen of the state. Yet the question remains, can the good the government is seeking to do during this crisis overshadow years of Republican messaging to the contrary?

States rights and COVID

Ever since COVID cases began to rise in Mississippi a year ago, the state has handled the crisis with a complete lack of consistency, with one message from the governor and Republican state legislators and another from local officials who have been seeking to keep their communities safe. Initially, the governor’s message was that as a rural state, the pandemic was not going to have the same impact as it was having in large cities, so there was no need for tight restrictions. Gov. Reeves’ brand of exceptionalism proved to be wrong, as COVID cases escalated over the summer months, striking the poor and communities of color hard.

By July, about one in six state lawmakers tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Dr. Thomas Dobbs of the Mississippi Health Department, since most lawmakers flouted mask requirements in the state Capitol, citing their personal freedom as a reason not to wear a mask.

Then there was Mississippi’s patchwork quilt of county-by-county mask mandates and COVID restrictions on bars and restaurants, which ignored that the virus could travel across county lines, since people in rural Mississippi often shop and seek medical attention across those artificial borders. When Gov. Reeves lifted the mask mandate in March, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper that while he strongly encouraged the wearing of masks, he did not feel the number of COVID cases in the state “required government intervention.”

Widespread vaccine hesitancy

Today Mississippi may have vaccinated nearly a quarter of its population, but the mixed messaging from Gov. Reeves over the past year has now kept the needle from moving quickly on getting enough shots in arms. As The New York Times recently reported, there is now a pile up in unclaimed vaccination appointments in the state, and public health officials believe it is a sign of vaccine hesitancy. And this is during a period when anyone over the age of 16 is eligible for the vaccine.

The state needs to do something to overcome this issue, but the question remains, will a push by the state to get more people vaccinated be viewed as, to use Gov. Reeves’s phrasing, “government intervention?” Given the history of the state, an aversion to the idea that government can help the common good stands at the root of the hesitancy.

Interestingly enough, Mississippi has one of the nation’s best child vaccination rates, largely because of a strict mandatory vaccination law that lacks the loopholes found in many states. Mississippi does not allow religious or philosophical exemptions to child vaccination.

But the COVID vaccine is another story.

Bear in mind that Mississippi is a place defined by a volatile mixture of politics and culture. The white population includes a sizeable number of Republican anti-vaxxers since nationally nearly half of Republican men and 40% of Republicans overall have said in surveys that they do not plan to be vaccinated. Mississippi’s Black population, which is roughly 38% of the population of the entire state, includes many who are suspicious of the medical establishment and thus the vaccine. White evangelicals have also expressed resistance to taking the vaccine.

When you combine all those factors with a populace conditioned to be suspicious of government, it is little wonder that there is a vaccine surplus in the state. I have seen more yard signs in the college town of Oxford, Mississippi commanding me to trust in Jesus during this pandemic than I have seen signs commanding me to wear a mask or urging me to get vaccinated.

No escaping the past

Since Reagan’s speech in Neshoba County in 1980, the message from Mississippi’s Republican establishment has been that government is the problem. Now that there is a problem that government can potentially help solve – a solution that provides the key to herd immunity in a state that has been ravaged by the pandemic – any sign of government intervention is still automatically seen as suspect by a large portion of the population, because, for years, their leaders have steadily sent the message to citizens that a government solution as an intrusion.

I often say that in Mississippi, nothing is ever escaped. The past and the present live beside each other across the state’s landscape and reverberate against each other. If anything has exposed the years of lies about fear of government that the Republican party has inflicted on Mississippi and the nation, it is this pandemic.

It is time for Mississippians and Americans to learn from our past – and unshackle ourselves from it – rather than continuing to be defined by it. Government help and guidance can help us through this crisis, just as it guided the nation out of the Great Depression. 40 years later, this pandemic has made one thing clear: Ronald Reagan’s message of freedom from government has blinded many of us to the realities of the present.

W. Ralph Eubanks is the author of A Place Like Mississippi and is a visiting professor of Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.

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GSK climbs 6% on report of Elliot Management’s multibillion stake

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The GlaxoSmithKline building is pictured in Hounslow, west London, Britain, in this June 18, 2013.

  • GSK rose 6% on Thursday after Elliott Management took a multibillion-pound stake in the company.
  • The “significant” investment was confirmed by exclusive sources to the Financial Times.
  • Elliott enters the picture amid GSK’s struggle rebuild itself after a falling behind in the COVID-19 vaccine race.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell

Shares of GlaxoSmithKline rose 6% on Thursday after reports of hedge fund Elliott Management taking a multi-billion pound stake at the British pharmaceutical firm.

GSK rose to a high of $38.24, its highest price since January 28. It was last at $38.04 around 10:22 a.m. ET, up around 5.3%.

The “significant” investment was confirmed by exclusive sources to the Financial Times Thursday.

Elliott, the $42 billion hedge fund known for its activist campaigns, enters the picture at a time when GSK is struggling to overcome a bruised reputation. The pharmaceutical company has failed to keep up in the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, losing out to rivals with far less experience.

To date, GSK’s vaccine unit has yet to develop a coronavirus shot, according to an Insider exclusive, despite helping the world address the crises of H1N1 and Ebola viruses years back. At least three dozen employees have departed from one of its key centers since the pandemic began, Insider found.

Elliot’s investment also comes after the GSK CEO Dame Emma Walmsley decided to narrow the company’s research focus to immunology by combining the pharmaceutical and vaccine units. Walmsley, who lacks an extensive scientific background, took the helm from Andrew Witty in 2017.

Elliott has launched dozens of activist campaigns at companies across the world, especially in the health sector. It was founded by billionaire Paul Singer in 1977.

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