Responding to a wave of Fox News-fueled criticism, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on Monday defended his decision to make all Black, Indigenous and people of color eligible for a vaccine, painting it as a necessary attempt to address racial disparities in both COVID-19 infection rates and vaccine uptake.
Scott cited the same statistics his administration used to justify the move when it was announced last week, noting in a press release that just 20 percent of BIPOC Vermonters have been vaccinated compared to 33 percent of non-Hispanic white Vermonters.
He also argued that the approach aligns well with the state's long-stated goal of prioritizing those most likely to suffer the worst impacts from infection, given research showing the BIPOC population faces a higher risk of developing complications that can lead to hospitalization.
“This is a population of our neighbors already facing health equity disadvantages as a result of historical inequities and injustices,” Scott, a Republican, said in the release. “These disparities are unacceptable to me.”
Scott's comments follow days of harsh criticism from a number of high-profile right-wing provocateurs, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who referred to the policy as "blatantly racist." Conservative commentator Matt Walsh tweeted the move was "wildly unacceptable and absurdly unethical."
Others argued that it violated the constitution and encouraged public interest attorneys to sue the state.
President Joe Biden's administration has also been seeking to address COVID-19 racial disparities, announcing a program last month aimed at shipping doses directly to federally funded clinics in underserved areas.
Scott did not offer a legal defense of his initiative. He did, however, take issue with the "racist response" to the move, saying state officials, employees and others have been subjected to "vitriolic and inappropriate comments."
He chalked this up to the "legacy of racism in America, and in Vermont, [which] still drives a lot of anger and fear."
“We understand that these are stressful, uncertain times and people have different ways of dealing with that stress," Scott said in the release. “That is no excuse, however, to resort to hateful attacks on fellow Vermonters — especially those comments including racist slurs."
“And to my fellow Vermonters who find themselves the target of these comments and actions of prejudice, please know that we stand with you," he added. "Do not be intimidated by the hate speech. Do not allow these comments of racism to keep you from getting vaccinated or from anything you deserve as members of the Vermont community.”
All Vermonters, regardless of age, will be eligible to sign up for a vaccine by April 19.