Just over four months ago, with the TV cameras running, Gov. Kevin Stitt sat down to get his single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from a state health department nurse.
The move earned the governor kudos from the state’s medical community and Democrats — two groups that have long been critical of Stitt’s COVID-19 response — as they hoped a popular red-state governor could help convince those on the fence to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Since then, it has been near radio silence from the governor on social media and elsewhere when it comes to vaccines.
An Oklahoma Watch review of Stitt’s Twitter account since he got the vaccine shot shows that the governor’s posts about vaccination outreach or the state’s vaccination successes accounted for only 1.53% of his tweets (3 out of 193), including his tweet about getting the vaccine.
That stands in stark contrast to the more proactive approach being taken by governors — both Republicans and Democrats— of Oklahoma’s neighbors.
Oklahoma Watch also reviewed the social posting of the Twitter accounts of the governors of the six surrounding states: Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and New Mexico. The review of posts since March 28 found:
- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) tweeted about vaccination outreach and/or benefits in 43.32% of posts (133 of 307 tweets).
- New Mexico Gov. Michell Lujan Grisham (D) tweeted about it 26% of the time (165 of 633 tweets).
- Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) also tweeted about it 26% of the time (51 of 196 tweets).
- Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) tweeted about it 17% of the time (228 of 1,341 tweets).
- Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) tweeted about it 13% of the time (54 of 407 tweets).
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) tweeted about it 3.6% time (20 out 555).
On Facebook, where the governor’s official page has 111,260 followers, Stitt hasn’t posted about COVID-19 or the importance of vaccines for months.
One of the few mentions of vaccines since March was when Stitt posted that, “taking the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice,” along with a post celebrating his signing of a bill that prohibits public schools and universities from requiring masks or proof of vaccination unless the governor issues a new emergency order — something Stitt says he doesn’t plan to do.
In addition, of the last 45 press releases sent by the governor’s office, none were specifically about vaccination efforts.
This comes as Oklahoma now has one of the highest COVID-19 test positivity rates in the nation as cases have quickly climbed in recent days. Oklahoma health leaders, meanwhile, say the worst may yet be to come since Oklahoma trails much of the country in getting residents vaccinated.
In comparison, Hutchinson has sent dozens of press releases and Facebook posts, in addition to more than 100 tweets, stressing the importance of vaccines or providing information on how residents in Arkansas can get vaccinated during the past four weeks.
This includes numerous posts highlighting Hutchinson’s recently announced COVID-19 listening tour.
“It’s a chance for me to continue to encourage people to get vaccinated,” he said in a statement. “This is the challenge we face.”
On Thursday, Hutchinson reinstated Arkansas’ public health emergency and called for a special session of the state legislature to consider amending a state law banning mask mandates, thereby allowing schools to set their own policies.
Carly Atchison, a spokeswoman for Stitt, said the governor’s office stands behind their vaccination outreach efforts so far. She added that there are no plans to try new strategies, such as offering lottery-based incentives like many other states are doing or embarking on a listening tour similar to what Hutchinson is doing.
“Vaccines are free and available to anyone who wants one,” she added, saying “the Health Department continues to share resources for vaccines and encourage those who can get a vaccine to get one.”
Atchison also pointed to new vaccine data that shows vaccination are on the uptick as cases and hospitalizations have started to ramp up.
Minority Floor Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, however, said this isn’t enough.
Virgin gave credit to Stitt for getting and publicizing the vaccine earlier this year. She also noted that the health department has been more proactive in getting the message out.
But Virgin said Stitt has considerable sway among many Oklahomans and he is uniquely positioned to help convince those on the fence that they should get the vaccine.
“The governor has the ability to be a very important messenger at this time,” she said. “No matter how many times I talk about it, a certain part of the population may not listen to me. But they might if we have both sides of the aisle talking about it.”
Last week, the state’s largest paper, also urged Stitt to go on a “media blitz” to encourage vaccinations.
“This is no time to sit back. This is a time to lead,” wrote The Oklahoman Executive Editor Ray Rivera and Managing Editor Clytie Bunyan in the editorial. “The governor should put public health over politics. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain. A better-vaccinated population leads to fewer cases, fewer hospitalizations and a continued economic recovery.”
The pitch didn’t seem to work.
Atchinson, in response, tweeted that The Oklahoman was just trying to attack Stitt for not mandating the vaccine, even though the editorial did not call for such a move.
“Rather than make the case themselves, (The Oklahoman) editors accuse (Stitt) of playing politics because he won’t mandate the vaccine which is what they actually want and went with the “silence is violence” argument,” she wrote. “The new wokelahoman!”
Trevor Brown covered politics, elections, health policies and government accountability issues for Oklahoma Watch. Call or text him at (630) 301-0589. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tbrownokc