Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp keeps mentioning failed AIDS vaccine mandates. But there is no AIDS vaccine

Kemp, a Republican, has repeatedly referenced an AIDS vaccine over the last year. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist

Published September 17, 2021 7:50PM (EDT)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (Megan Varner/Getty Images)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, keeps mentioning the failed campaign to vaccinate Americans against the AIDS virus as an example of the pitfalls of healthcare mandates.

Except the AIDS vaccine doesn't exist. And there sure wasn't a failed campaign to mandate it.

He made the comments most recently on an episode of the right-wing commentator Erick Erickson's podcast, emphasizing that as a result of his knowledge of the nonexistent AIDS vaccine, he believes that education is a more effective tool than mandates. 

"That is basically how the AIDS vaccine worked. People wouldn't take it early on because it was mandated, they started educating people and now it is doing a lot of good out there," Kemp told Erickson. "Same scenario, different year that we are dealing with right now."

A fact check from Atlanta TV station 11 Alive rated Kemp's claims "false" — and noted that the governor has made similar comments about AIDS vaccines at least two other times over the past year. 

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When reached for comment by the station, Kemp's office said he meant to mention the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine. But even this statement raises eyebrows — the HPV vaccine is also mandated in a number of states to attend public schools (among other inoculations), a campaign that has been largely effective in getting school-age children vaccinated, 11 Alive reported.

The governor has been a vocal opponent of recent public health efforts to tamp down on the spread of COVID-19. Kemp has repeatedly said that he will never sign off on mask or vaccine mandates while in office, drawing the criticism of public health experts. 

In fact, the state's public health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, even had her lawyer write up a formal letter last year stating that she thought the governor's plans to reopen live entertainment venues was a bad idea, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It ultimately did not stop Kemp from doing so.

"It's one thing to say you're following the science; it's another thing to shoehorn the science into what you want it to be," Amber Schmidtke, a public health researcher who taught at Mercer University's medical school in Macon, Georgia, told the paper. "A lot of people were hurt, and a lot of people died when they didn't need to."

Kemp acknowledged the difficulty of his decisions in a press conference during the brouhaha, saying: "We had to make some very tough choices during extraordinary times, and there is no playbook for this."

"Looking back one year, every day is a reminder of the things that we went through, the tough decisions that we made."

He's also been a supporter of former President Donald Trump — but earned a very public bout of anger from the ex-commander-in-chief when he resisted Trump's attempts to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results.

Since then, however, Kemp has pushed voting laws that not only restrict access to the ballot for many Georgians but also allow state officials to stage hostile takeovers of local election boards — raising concerns about Republican efforts to subvert future elections. 

By Brett Bachman

Brett Bachman was the Nights/Weekend Editor at Salon.

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Aggregate Aids Vaccine Brian Kemp Coronavirus Covid Vaccine Covid-19 Georgia Governor Health Politics