Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey holds a sit down interview with reporters in the Governor's office at the Alabama State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.

Southern governors — in the nation’s least vaccinated states — are vowing to fight President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Despite having strict child immunizations laws, mandating multiple vaccinations, the governors of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee have been vocal about plans to block new federal vaccine mandates, which will require COVID-19 vaccinations for federal employees, contractors and private employers with 100 or more employees.

The mandate will go into effect following the issuance of a standard by Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Employees could opt to take a weekly COVID test in lieu of being vaccinated or employees could also claim a religious or medically related exemption to avoid the mandate.

The four Southern states with governors resisting the mandates — Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee — are among the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with 40.2%, 40.8% 42.8% and 43.2% of the population being vaccinated, respectively, according to Our World Data, a worldwide research and data website.

Each state currently requires at least four types of vaccines for school-aged children, the result of disease outbreaks such as polio, mumps, measles and chicken pox. While those states do offer exemptions to vaccines for medical reasons, Mississippi is the only of those states that doesn’t offer immunization exemption for religious reasons.

COVID-19 has proven to be one of the deadliest public health epidemics in the nation’s history — with at least 661,000 deaths attributed to the disease; However, Republican governors are now saying they do not plan to enforce Biden’s vaccine mandates, despite COVID-19 having surpassed previous death tolls from past epidemics for which vaccines have been mandated.

Biden has said vaccine requirements, along with additional measures rolled out last week, are necessary to get the delta variant surge of the COVID-19 pandemic under control in the U.S.

MISSISSIPPI

As a percentage of its population, Mississippi ranks second in the country for COVID-related deaths, an estimated 3,016 deaths per one million people.

Mississippi is in the top five least COVID vaccinated states, with only 40.8% of the state being fully vaccinated and 47% of people 12 and older being fully vaccinated.

The state touts itself as having “one of the most successful childhood immunization programs” since 1994, with more than 99% of children who enter kindergarten being protected.

The state is one of six states — California, Connecticut, Maine, New York and West Virginia — that does not allow religious exemptions for vaccines. There were 374 medically related exemptions for students during the 2020-21 school year, according to a report by the Mississippi State Department of Health.

While the state has some of the most stiff regulations for vaccine exemptions, Gov. Tate Reeves has spoken against requiring residents to get the vaccine for COVID, which has claimed the lives of an estimated 9,000 Mississippians.

“Biden’s unconstitutional order is part of a war on working-class Americans, threatening their wallet if they do not comply,” Reeves said. “It is the worst possible way to grow confidence in the vaccine, and beyond that it is wrong. We will use every tool to stop it. ... The President has no authority to require that Americans inject themselves because of their employment at a private business. The vaccine itself is life-saving but this unconstitutional move is terrifying.”

In a Sept. 12 interview with Fox Business, Reeves implied that the mandate is unconstitutional because it did not go through the legislative branch.

GEORGIA

More than 23,741 Georgians have died from COVID, placing Georgia at the 14th highest COVID death rate in country — an estimated 2,236 per 1 million people have died related to the disease.

Nearly 43% of the state has been fully vaccinated, with those 19 and younger making up about 8.2% of vaccinations.

Gov. Brian Kemp called Biden’s mandate “blatantly political, divisive and unconstitutional,” but did not provide the basis for his claim that the federal mandate violated the U.S. Constitution.

“The vaccine is a choice, and hardworking Georgians, small business owners, and families will not be bullied by (the Biden) administration,” Kemp said, noting that he plans to pursue legal actions against Biden's mandate."

According to a 2017 report by Georgia Department of Public Health, the state issued very few vaccine exemptions for other vaccines required by the state; less than 1% of incomplete vaccination records were for religious exemptions, and less than .10% were for medical exemptions.

ALABAMA

Alabama continues to be in the top five of lowest vaccinated states, with only 40.5% — or 4.3 million people being fully vaccinated.

The state ranks eighth in highest percentage of deaths as it pertains to overall population. Our World Data reports a total of 12,676 COVID-19-related deaths in Alabama, or 2,585 per 1 million people.

“Bring it on. ... Washington won’t be telling Alabama what to do. ... I’m standing as strong as a bull for Alabama against the outrageous Washington outreach. Bring it on,” Gov. Kay Ivey said.

According to data provided by Alabama Department of Public Health, more than 12,850 full religious exemptions and 560 full medical exemptions for vaccine requirements are in effect for students who have been opted out of state-mandated childhood vaccinations.

TENNESSEE

Gov. Bill Lee has pushed for residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but does not support the mandate, claiming the Constitution does not give the president such authority as to require the vaccine for Americans.

“To be clear: the vaccine is the best tool we have to combat the pandemic but heavy-handed mandates are the wrong approach. ... The Constitution won’t allow this power grab, and in the meantime, I will stand up for all Tennesseans,” Lee said.

The state has the 24th highest percentage of COVID-19 deaths, a total of 13,890 or 2,034 per 1 million people. Forty-three percent, or 6.54 million, of the state's population has been fully vaccinated, with residents ages 12-15 making up 3.4% and ages 16-20 making up 5.2%.

The Tennessee Department of Health reported 4% of students who were not fully vaccinated with mandatory school vaccines were due to religious exemptions. Only .1% of the total population received a medical exemption for those other state-mandated, routine vaccinations.

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