Legislative plan: Stoke fear, offer bill to soothe fear

Friday, April 9, 2021, Vol. 45, No. 15

Yes, Americans wore masks during the flu pandemic of 1918.

-- Photograph Provided

If people could fight COVID-19 with a gun, Tennessee legislators would be health care champions. As it happens, though, the best weapons against COVID are masks, physical distancing and vaccines – none of which most legislators are keen on promoting. Instead, they’re keen on blocking them.

Confronted by a disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of people across the country, they conclude that the gravest threat to Tennesseans is ... government.

Toward that end they introduced various measures to prohibit or limit the government’s ability to require masks or vaccinations, to restrict the number of people gathering in churches or homes, or to curtail business operations or travel.

You get the picture.

Some of those measures have already withered. Others should. But it’s instructive to follow the reasoning behind them, to the extent that “reasoning” applies.

Senate Bill 187, for example. Its stated purpose is to prevent state or local authorities from forcing anyone to get a COVID vaccine, a prospect that no one has suggested.

But its sponsor, Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, made it clear in committee the other day that she had more on her mind than shots. Across the country, she said, “constitutions have been shredded, businesses forcibly shut down, churches forcefully shut down, schools closed, people told to cower in fear in their homes.”

Her bill, she said, was designed to “assuage the fear in many Tennessee people,” fear that she then proceeded to stoke with what I’ll charitably call misinformation.

Among her assertions, she claimed that though the Spanish flu in 1912 (it was 1918-1920) killed “500 million people worldwide” (a figure she inflated by a factor of 10), “We never shut down one school or church or business, and people didn’t run around with pieces of cloth over their mouths.”

Oh yes we did. In various places across the country, schools, churches and businesses were indeed closed. And mask orders were issued, though then, as now, there was resistance and uneven compliance. It’s history, easy enough to look up.

She sought to minimize the threat posed by COVID, claiming a fatality rate of “point-4%.”

“So people ask why is government trying to limit the movement and quarantine 99.6% of the population that are well?” she asked.

Bowling professed not to be a doctor. She’s also clearly not a mathematician.

For starters, the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University show the COVID case fatality rate in the United States is 1.8%, four times what Bowling claimed. Federal officials cite COVID as the third-leading cause of U.S. deaths in 2020.

In any event, subtracting the fatality rate from 100% doesn’t identify the number of people who are “well.” It identifies those COVID victims who aren’t dead.

More Bowling: “There is much research that shows that the Moderna and the Pfizer shots can be very dangerous to young people of child-producing age.”

More Johns Hopkins: “The COVID-19 vaccine will not affect fertility.”

Bowling also offered a bizarre theory of how the efficacy rates of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are calculated, and suggested people would be much better off with “ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin, Vitamin D3, C and zinc.”

The Food and Drug Administration warns specifically against the use of ivermectin – an anti-parasite – for the treatment of COVID. If my doctor recommended any of the other stuff instead of a vaccine, I’d look for a new doctor.

Of those two vaccines Bowling mentioned, she claimed that neither had been tested “on animals, much less on people” and that they’re not actually vaccines, but “a gene therapy.”

This from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “All COVID-19 vaccines were tested in clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people.”

Dr. Tim Jones, chief medical officer of the Tennessee Department of Health, was on hand for the meeting by videoconference and tried his best to counter at least some of Bowling’s fact-deficient claims.

The Pfizer and Moderna products are indeed vaccines, he said, have remarkably few side effects and “are definitely not gene therapy,” a term he said “that can, I think, really scare folks unnecessarily.”

Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville tried to inject some reality into the committee discussion. He asked Jones what had happened to the fatality rate since the introduction of the vaccines.

“Markedly decreased,” Jones said. “Remarkably decreased.”

No matter. The bill sailed through committee 8-1, Yarbro the only no vote.

Bowling, in making her case, asserted, “People are afraid of government, and they have every right to be.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com