Public health experts are dismayed that Republican officials and lawmakers have embraced anti-vaccine theories as the coronavirus continues to claim new victims.
Conservative state lawmakers are trying to block universities from requiring students to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations, and public health experts trace those efforts back to the Tea Party's "health freedom" movement in the middle of the last decade that pushed back against vaccine requirements following a California measles outbreak, reported Politico.
"They're causing a lot of damage," said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. "The GOP has now fully embraced anti-vaccine, anti-science activities."
Prohibiting vaccine mandates are seen as a show of support for former president Donald Trump, who last year won 14 or the 16 states with bans, although universities may challenge those laws and executive orders.
"To respond to almost like a boogie man and start legislating so early on, I think is a little bit short-sighted," said Rekha Lakshmanan, director of advocacy and policy at the Immunization Partnership.
Arizona and Florida have both banned universities from mandating vaccination proof as the more contagious Delta variant of the deadly virus surge in areas with lower rates of inoculation, and college students are already the least likely cohort to have gotten the shots or plan on getting them.
"In order for college students to return to the kind of pre-pandemic environment on college campuses, that the college area has to be safe, and we feel the best way for it to be safe, from a health standpoint, is to require this vaccine," said Gerri Taylor, co-chair of the American College Health Association's coronavirus task force.
Younger adults are less likely to die from COVID-19, but they can still suffer serious health effects and spread the virus to others, and one vaccine expert said refusing to get the shots is like playing Russian roulette.
"It's not five empty chambers and one bullet, it's probably 100,000 empty chambers and one bullet," said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of FDA's vaccine advisory panel. "But why put a gun to your head?"