By Guy Page
Not funny, a Northeast Kingdom lawmaker said of an anti-vaccine freedom cartoon shared by the presenter of the Dec. 8 economic forecast briefing to the Legislature.
Every December, state economist Tom Kavet presents a high-level overview of the state’s financial outlook to the Vermont Legislature. The annual PowerPoint presentation tells lawmakers what to expect from the state and national economy – what’s happening now, what will happen, and why. His forecast helps lawmakers make crucial decisions on spending and taxation.
As one might imagine, these presentations are heavy on facts, figures, and graphs. Kavet, eager to keep his audience’s attention, often throws in a political cartoon or two to elicit a chuckle and, it is hoped, understanding.
This year, the second slide in the 48-slide presentation showed a recent cartoon by nationally-syndicated cartoonist Walt Handelsman. In the cartoon, Uncle Sam is seen juggling eight dangerous items – including a knife pointed directly at him labeled “anti-vaxxers”.
According to Rep. Vicki Strong (R-Albany), the cartoon – and related comments by Kavet – were “highly inappropriate.”
“Right off the bat, he went into a discourse about how the ‘unvaccinated’ will be putting a big strain on our healthcare beds and systems,” Strong, a lead sponsor of several vaccine freedom bills, said. “He had a few slides of “data” and said that the majority of covid cases in the hospitals are the unvaccinated, and that they will be an economic concern for our state budget.”
In the very first slide he has a cartoon depiction of fiscal concerns and the word “anti-vaxxers” was in the slide as though they are a threat. This was highly inappropriate,” she wrote in an email to Vermont Daily Chronicle. She criticized “the ‘spin’ being brought forth without any regard to people who have experienced vaccine injuries, people with natural immunity, the high rate of recovery from covid infections – 99% of the population, and the complete absence of mentioning preventatives and successful treatments for covid infection (vitamins, ivermectin).”
Kavet did, indeed, seem to disparage the choice of the unvaccinated:
“Despite an extraordinary vaccine development effort that made vaccination freely accessible for the entire eligible U.S. population, uptake remains subaltern with only 64% of those ages 5 and up fully vaccinated. Vermont (at 77%) and 4 of the other 5 regional New England states have the highest rates of vaccination among all U.S. states, with NH at #12, still in the upper tier.
“Per capita rates of infection are about 5 times more likely and hospitalizations and death are about 13 times more likely among those who are unvaccinated. In Vermont and most states, unvaccinated individuals represent the vast majority of hospitalized COVID patients. A Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation study estimated preventable hospitalization costs for unvaccinated people in the U.S. totaled nearly $6 billion between June and August of 2021 – and based on these rates, could exceed $15 billion by the end of the year.”
Strong also warned that non-vaccinated people may have difficulty entering the State House – ‘The People’s House’ – this January: “Also, you probably already heard there will most likely be a requirement to have proof of “vaccination” or take a PCR test before getting into the State House in January. I will not be doing either of those things so we will see how this all plays out!”
A spokesperson at the Sgt. of Arms office said today “there is nothing definitive on that, at this point” when asked about proof of vaccine or PCR testing being required for entry. VDC has reached out to lawmakers on the Joint Rules Committee for comment.