OKLAHOMA (KFOR) – The head of the Oklahoma State Medical Association said politicians are putting their own constituents in danger with their words surrounding COVID-19. She said the pandemic could last longer if politicians continue to stir controversy about COVID-19, face masks and vaccines.

“If we continue to use it as a political tool, then people are going to continue to get sick and they’re going to continue to die,” said Dr. Mary Clarke, President of the OSMA.

Dr. Clarke believes the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be over until after the 2024 Presidential Elections. She said the virus is thriving on political turmoil.

“The politicians have used COVID mask requirements, vaccine [and] fear as a tool to keep the population fired up going into an election cycle,” Dr. Clarke told KFOR.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Throughout the pandemic, the doctor told News 4 she’s watched politicians use COVID-19, civil liberties, personal freedom, as well as some misinformation for political gain.

“I have patients who truly believed some of the things that certain politicians have said, and they have been absolutely anti-everything this whole time and are now dead,” she said.

With local elections starting up this year, followed by presidential elections in 2024, Dr. Clarke worries the political divide may deepen.

“Unless there’s some epiphany that people realize, ‘Oh my gosh, the things I’m telling you, my constituents are dying,’” she said. “I think we’re going to be in the same boat in ‘25.”

Flashpoint political analysts, Democrat Mike Turpen and Republican Todd Lamb, weighed in.

“All statewide elected officials or statewide officers are up in 2022, so we might see some politicizing here locally,” said Lamb.

“The candidates will have to figure out exactly where they are on vaccines, on boosters and on mask mandates, that sort of thing,” said Turpen.

Lamb believes more people are warming up to masks and taking a pragmatic approach to the pandemic.

“You start to see society kind of determine what they want to do locally,” Lamb said. “I hold on to enough optimism where I hope this virus is well in our rearview mirror and we’re on to working together and doing other things.”

Turpen believes former President Donald Trump urging his followers to get vaccinated is helping.

“I think that helps motivate more and more conservative Republicans, mostly to go get a vaccine if they haven’t already and to get a booster if they’ve got the vaccine,” said Turpen. “All the candidates will have to react to what their policy is relative to the pandemic because it’s the biggest problem that confronts the whole world right now.”

“My personal experiences with my patients is that that’s actually not true,” said Dr. Clarke. “What’s having people get vaccinated is their husband, wife, spouse, sister, mother, father, daughter and family members dying. And they realize ‘I probably need to get vaccinated.’”

“Until they understand that the virus is a killer, they will be more afraid of it and be more likely to go get a vaccine,” she said.

As we head into the next legislative session and upcoming election year, Dr. Clarke advises Oklahomans save any medical questions they may have for their doctor instead of a politician.