Sun Gazette editorials represent the viewpoint of Sun Gazette Newspapers, which provides content to, but is otherwise unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

Memo to: Gov. Ralph Northam.

From: Your sometime buddies (and sometime critics) here at the Sun Gazette editorial page.

Re: Health-care messaging.

GREETINGS, YOUR EXCELLENCY (yep, that’s really the title of Virginia governors):

We know you frequently opt not to take the advice proffered in our editorials, but we think that, upon reflection, this one may be a keeper.

It involves one of your political appointees, state health czar Dr. Norman Oliver. The problem? Since the start of the COVID craziness, Dr. Oliver has simultaneously been a little too out in public, decidedly too aggressive ... and not particularly politically astute about it.

Consider his most recent misstep: Making the rather lofty pronouncement that all Virginians must be vaccinated when (if?) a COVID-19 vaccine materializes.

It was a constitutionally arguable power grab (the last time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on powers of government to mandate vaccines came  in 1905). Worse, from the prism of politics, it was unnecessarily combative.

For the record, governor, we’re hardly against vaccinations, and will be supportive if one is found that can prevent COVID without causing side-effects in the short or long terms. But your health commissioner seemed to be getting well out in front of things, and unnecessarily so.

Governor, we note that it didn’t take long for your administration to see the damage that statement was going to cause, and kudos to you for quickly backpedaling (moonwalking?) and leaving Dr. Oliver out on a limb of his own making. But it does call into question whether your appointee is clearing his messaging with you before tossing out his pronouncements, or simply winging it.

A health leader who doesn’t think through the ramifications of his messaging, and one whose default position seems to be ham-handed authoritarianism, is neither good for the citizens of the commonwealth nor healthy for your administration. Based on the swift disavowal of his vaccine comments, we’re guessing you’d concur.

So, Gov. Northam, please make sure he gets the message to mull his messaging and tone it down, would you? It will save us all heartache down the road.


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