Gov. Tate Reeves told reporters at a recent news conference he was opposed to vaccine mandates – especially for public entities.
“I don’t believe public sector entities have the authority to mandate vaccines,” Reeves said. “I don’t think private sector entities should mandate vaccines, but if an individual doesn’t like what their boss is doing, I guess they can go find another job.”
Reeves did not equivocate. Until he did.
When the first-term Republican governor was asked about the state’s long-time vaccine mandates to enroll in public schools and public universities, Reeves first said he was not going to mandate a vaccine that had only emergency use authorization as the coronavirus vaccines currently do.
But scientists say the authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is coming – and soon. Surely Reeves also believes the authorization is coming or else he would not be urging people to take it.
He was asked again whether he opposed current vaccine mandates for public schools and universities like measles, mumps and rubella.
By this time, the governor was backtracking faster than Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders used to do when he was a primetime cornerback in the National Football League.
“Clearly there have been statutes in place that the Legislature has passed to require that (vaccines) for young individuals,” Reeves said. “Surely that is a decision that has been made in the past.”
He told members of the media “y’all are going down some silly rabbit trails now” by asking about instances where Mississippi public entities already are mandating vaccines.
Of the several groups trying to eliminate vaccine mandates for Mississippi’s public schools, Reeves said, “That is fine. They can try to repeal those, and I wish them the best of luck in doing so if that is what they wish to do.”
“But I am not supportive of a vaccine passport. I am not supportive of mandating the vaccine for COVID-19 period.”
In the end, Reeves said he was not going to answer hypothetical questions about whether he supported the repeal of some existing vaccine mandates even though he had stated unequivocally at one point he opposed vaccine mandates for public entities.
Truth be known, Mississippi’s public universities do require many vaccines. In some instances, students also must be vaccinated for hepatitis B, according to information provided to Mississippi Today by the Institutions of Higher Learning. State law mandates a litany of vaccines to enroll in kindergarten-12th grade schools.
Reeves said those were decisions made in the past as if he were washing his hands of those actions. But as governor, part of his job is to change laws that he believes are unfair or are bad public policy.
As lieutenant governor, presiding over the Senate before he was elected governor, Reeves had direct influence on the writing of laws. Bills were introduced during his tenure as lieutenant governor to eliminate or ease vaccine mandates. Those bills had and continue to have vocal supporters. Those bills went nowhere in Reeves’ Senate.
But a bill did pass Reeves’ Senate unanimously to potentially jail people who refused the state-mandated treatment for tuberculosis. That bill later died in the House.
Upon questioning by the media, Reeves equivocated on his first statement of strong opposition to vaccine mandates. He was not willing to say he opposed the state’s existing vaccine mandates.
In recent years, Reeves has become a politician who does not like to equivocate. He seldom does. He has strong opinions.
That has been the puzzling aspect of many of Reeves’ statements on the COVID-19 vaccine. He seems to go out of his way to equivocate.
The governor will make a strong statement in support of all Mississippians taking the vaccine, and then a few minutes later add a caveat, such as it’s a personal choice whether an individual should take the vaccine or there are risks to taking the vaccine and risks to not taking it.
To his credit, in the most recent press availability, Reeves was more forceful in his endorsement of the coronavirus vaccine.
Perhaps he learned that from watching recent social media posts in support of getting the vaccine by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn.
They simply said it was the right thing to do.
Hosemann said, “Please receive the free vaccine. Protect your family, your friends and your fellow Mississippians.”
Gunn said, “The best thing you can do to help your neighbors and friends and help our community and our state right now is to get the vaccine. It is the best tool that we have to fight the virus. I would urge each of us to get the vaccine.”
This analysis was produced by Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization that covers state government, public policy, politics and culture. Bobby Harrison is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter.