Sep. 17—When the COVID-19 vaccine was first released, Republican Congressman Tom Cole thought everyone who was eligible and able would take it.
Now, as Oklahoma has seen nearly 10,000 deaths — over 1,000 of which have been since July — and low vaccination rates, Cole is pleading with people to get the shot.
"We've had roughly 1,000 deaths since July, and approximately 95% of them are amongst people that did not have the vaccine. That's 1,000 deaths that did not need to happen," Cole, R-Moore, said. "That's just since July, when the vaccines have been available to everybody since then."
Less than 50% of Oklahomans fully vaccinated despite the vaccine widely available since earlier this year. Oklahoma ranks 39 in the nation for percent of population fully vaccinated.
Cole said what hurts the most is knowing nearly every COVID death from here on out is preventable.
Cole, who got vaccinated the first opportunity he could, said he has always believed during his time in office that public health is one of the biggest issues governments must prepare for. This pandemic is just one reason why, he said.
As of Friday, there have been 9,748 COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma. Approximately 1,100 of those have been recorded since July.
Cole said as much as he implores people to receive the vaccine, people have the right to decide whether or not they want the shot. But in order to properly do so, he said, they must be given proper information, which is not happening right now.
"Disinformation is very dangerous," Cole said. "People have a right to make their own decisions, and so I'm not a mandates supporter. But in order for that decision to be made it must be on the basis of really good information, and most of the information is pretty clear."
During the August recess, Cole said he traveled to different hospitals in the Fourth Congressional District to meet frontline workers and talk to people dying from COVID.
While visiting different hospitals, he heard a strikingly similar message from different people who were dying from the virus, he said.
"You talk to the patients, if they're in a condition where they can talk, and they'll all tell you 'I wish I had done it, I should have done it. I didn't listen and I didn't get around to it,' or 'I had concern and now here I am,'" Cole said. "These are just the facts. So I would hope that people take this very seriously, it's a very dangerous disease. Even if it doesn't kill you, some of the long-term health implications can really change the course of your life, and again, we've got three vaccines that all work and will give you high levels of protection."
Not only is getting the vaccine important for one's own protection, it's also important for the safety of friends and family, Cole said.
However, Cole said he's against mandating the vaccination because he believes it will have the adverse effect as to what the Biden administration is hoping.
"You just have to continue the persuasion tactic," Cole said. "Look, we know smoking is not good for you, but we don't mandate that you not smoke — and we know a lot of other things aren't good for you, we don't mandate you on that. So I think here, public persuasion is absolutely the key."
Although he's against the federal government mandating the vaccine, Cole believes private businesses have the right to mandate the vaccine, and that choice should be entirely up to them.
Reese Gorman covers politics and COVID-19 for The Transcript; reach him at email@example.com or @reeseg_3.