Republican Missouri state Sen. Mike Moon believes that Covid-19 vaccinations should be discontinued, particularly among children, until the long-term effects are known. He cites research from sources such as America’s Frontline Doctors and Dr. Robert Malone, a guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast. He has not been immunized.

As a result, on February 1, he and other senators voted down Donald Kauerauf’s nomination to become the state’s next health director. Kauerauf had been serving in an interim capacity since September and had publicly stated that he was anti-abortion and anti-mandate for masks and vaccinations, despite being nominated by a Republican governor who is also anti-mandate. Moon, however, was unsatisfied.

The squabble in the heartland state is yet another example of political opposition to public health leadership. An investigation last year discovered that at least one in every five Americans lived in areas where the top local public health official had been fired, resigned, or retired as a result of a wave of threats to the profession and chronic stress that had resulted in firings, resignations, and retirements since the pandemic began. Such blows, according to public health officials, jeopardize the public health system’s ability to respond to other issues in the future.

In Florida, the nominee for Surgeon General declined five times in a hearing to definitively acknowledge that Covid vaccines work. Furthermore, the state health department recently placed a local public health official on administrative leave for encouraging vaccinations among his employees.

Montana passed legislation prohibiting employers, including those in health-care settings, from requiring Covid, flu, or other vaccinations.

A Tennessee legislator threatened the state medical board’s existence for warning that doctors’ licenses could be jeopardized if they spread Covid misinformation.

Serving at the pleasure of elected leaders is becoming “twisted and grotesque” in the face of extreme politicization, according to Brian Castrucci, CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, a public health advocacy organization. He went on to say that government public health leaders are being chosen based on their political ideologies rather than their scientific and leadership abilities.

During the pandemic, more than half of states rolled back public health powers, which experts say permanently weakens states’ ability to protect their constituents’ health.

“Both the fundamental legal authorities of public health and the people who practice are under attack in ways we’ve never seen before,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. He predicted that more legislative rollbacks, as well as court rulings limiting public health authorities, would occur this year across the country.

According to him, the removal of public health powers does not simply mean that unpopular Covid restrictions will be lifted. These restrictions frequently impair public health’s ability to combat other scourges.

Last summer, Missouri state legislators passed legislation limiting public health powers. In November, a judicial ruling further eroded local health officials’ authority to issue covid restrictions, stating that they were “based on the unfettered opinion of an unelected official.” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is also running for Senate, is suing schools to end mask mandates and created an email tip box in December where parents can send concerns, photos, and videos involving student mask wearing.

Kelley Vollmar, executive director of the Jefferson County Health Department in eastern Missouri, said the actions have severely weakened her public health powers. State law, for example, requires her to obtain confirmation from the county board of health. However, after 30 days, the orders must be reconfirmed, and Vollmar must spend $2,000 advertising them in her local paper.

The judicial ruling in November deprives Vollmar and other public health officials in the state of the ability to issue any orders involving infectious diseases. Those must now come from elected officials higher up in the chain of command. This has an impact on public health tools like contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine — not just for Covid, but also for the other 134 communicable diseases she’s responsible for protecting the public from.

Vollmar has seen a significant increase in requests for vaccine exemptions for measles and other preventable infectious diseases, and he is concerned about what might happen next.