The latest COVID-19 case numbers are trending upward. Health experts are expressing concern that we may be seeing the start of a new wave of infections and deaths, driven by colder weather and people gathering for inside activities.

A year ago, as the pandemic raged, and release of the first COVID-19 vaccine was still weeks away, defenses against the virus were few.

But that’s not the case today as three free vaccines are easily accessible for individuals beginning at age 5. Those medical marvels have brought remarkable progress in fighting the disease that has now killed more the 768,000 Americans and more than 16,600 Hoosiers.

Americans are now counting on the vaccine for long-term protection of their health, safety, security and prosperity. It is the solution to our country’s most serious problem. What stands in the way of defeating the virus is continued resistance and refusal by some people to get vaccinated.

It’s disappointing, even confounding, that top Indiana officials are choosing to use taxpayer money to bolster that fight against the vaccine in pursuit of political ends rather than embrace it on behalf of the entire population.

Gov. Eric Holcomb and Attorney General Todd Rokita have directed state resources toward lawsuits against federal vaccine mandates because, they claim, the mandates represent government overreach and an infringement on liberty and freedom.

The duo claim they support COVID-19 vaccinations and urge everyone to get them. They acknowledge the benefits of the vaccine. But they shrink from the challenge of mandating the vaccine in some instances.

One lawsuit challenges the mandate as it relates to federal contractors. Another is against the mandate requiring Americans who work at companies with more than 100 employees to be vaccinated or get tested for the virus weekly. The third action challenges the mandate for those who work in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid.

The pandemic response has been politicized in the U.S. from the start. The federal vaccine mandate instituted by President Biden stoked the controversy further, despite the fact that many vaccines for infectious diseases have been mandated in certain circumstances for decades.

Holcomb’s leadership was strong early in the pandemic. He has become more timid as political battles have intensified. If Holcomb really wants to serve and protect Hoosiers, he should be supporting efforts to require health care workers to be vaccinated.

Rokita’s role in this is especially troubling. As he attempts to climb the political ladder, he is using his office as a campaign megaphone. And he doesn’t try to hide his intentions. In his official announcement about the third lawsuit, he states, “Here in Indiana, we will remain relentless in our fight against these intrusive edicts by a socialist-leaning president.”

If only Rokita would be as relentless in fighting COVID-19, the biggest public health challenge of our lifetimes. There is a way to conquer it, if only our leaders would embrace the solution.

Whether motivated by principle or politics, Holcomb and Rokita should not be using state resources to engage in this battle. Rather, they should reexamine their priorities.

The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

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