Terry H. Schwadron
July 26, 2021
Apparently struck by the obvious that coronavirus is striking their very constituents, what we saw this week was a distinct turn by some — but not all — Republican leaders to promote, or at least allow for vaccines.
It was remarkable in its own way to hear the Republican governor of Alabama outwardly blame vaccine hesitance and resistance for the reported surge in Delta-mutated coronavirus in her suddenly overwhelmed state, to hear the Republican governor of Florida promoting vaccination (although one MAGA supporter tweeted that he must have been bribed to do so) and to see Tennessee officials reverse themselves over efforts to vaccinate teens.
Even House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Steve Doocey of Fox News were now promoting vaccination, and while colleague Sean Hannity said science had shown vaccinations effective, he stopped just short of telling people they should be seeking out the jabs.
In just a week or two, Joe Biden’s press for Americans to vaccinate was not such a horrible thing after all. The shift in the culture debate to deal more realistically with coronavirus were welcome, of course, but somewhat confusing. It raised the obvious question: Where have the Republican leaders been all this time, and why was the insistence on “individual liberty” so much a part of the sloganeering until — surprise — covid seemed to be hitting most severely at identifiably Republican areas.
The most recent week of measure showed that hospitals in southwestern Missouri were overflowing, and July 19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show Missouri, where the attorney general is suing St. Louis over a mask mandate, is the worst in the nation for covid case rates over the past week, with Florida not far behind. Indeed, the bottom 15 states for vaccinations against the potentially deadly virus, though less than in the winter, were in identifiably Republican-voting areas. Politico described the angry opposition to vaccines in Louisiana based on distrust of Donald Trump’s election loss and Democrats in Washington telling folks what to do.
The rise has been sufficient to worry financial markets, send a chill through economic recovery, threaten the Olympics and plans for a smooth school fall term — all items that would not help a Republican push in the next elections. The issue is that this new surge was preventable with a little more common sense cooperation between political parties.
Where Have They Been?
Still, we seem just shy of new mandates, either for vaccines or masks, though the debate is happening in businesses and in cities and localities.
In my own conversations, the topic keeps coming up: Why don’t Republican voters see that they have been hoodwinked by their leadership and by right-leaning media figures who continue to beat up on Biden, Democrats and Science to push any medical hesitance about vaccinations into an outwardly political stance. If vaccines are now “good,” according to Republican leaders, why weren’t they good last week or six months ago?
The cynical among us are smiling: This is a pandemic of hypocrisy.
Even this week, the question of returning to mask mandates was drawing the usual partisan opposition lines even as some Republican leaders were now outwardly promoting vaccines, even if it was in a belated attempt to protect their own voters.
I have heard conversations in which somehow the half of us who already accepted vaccination shouldn’t particularly care if masses of folks in opposing political areas skip vaccination. But, naturally, we do care that people are unduly risking their lives — and our own. Yes, some vaccinated people are getting coronavirus, but they are not dying from it any longer, which should be the goal.
Here was Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Republican, telling a reporter it’s “time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks.” And in Tennessee, which fired a health official in charge of vaccinations for sending around a note to clinicians reminding them that in Tennessee, it is legal to vaccinate a 14-year-old without parental permission, vaccinations now are back, along with messaging specifically targeted at parents rather than teens. The health department said it would continue to prohibit social media posts promoting vaccination that are specifically aimed at minors.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republilcan, lamented in a TV interview that it was “disappointing” that politics played a role in whether or not people decided to get the vaccine.
The National Football League this week imposed new rules that put pressure on unvaccinated players, warning their teams could face fines or be forced to forfeit games if those players were linked to outbreaks.
Republican strategist Matt Gorman told The Washington Post “I think for a lot of leaders, both in government and in business, patience has worn thin. There is an urgency that might not have been there a month ago.”
Biden administration officials increasingly frame the current outbreak as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” and were reporting a half-million new vaccinations just this week,
But after months of debates over political mandates, both Democrats and Republicans are venting about the sheer number of Americans who remain unvaccinated, particularly as hospitals are becoming overwhelmed in states with low vaccination rates.
Still, Conspiracy Theories Live
Still, despite the growing shift, a number of prominent conservative media voices continue to shower vaccines with skepticism, and social media disinformation continues unabated. “The Biden administration wants to knock down your door KGB-style to force people to get vaccinated!” Rep. Jason T. Smith, R-Mo., tweeted, adding to the what Huffington Post calls the coronavirus “infodemic” — the maelstrom of false and misleading information about COVID-19 that has gone viral during the pandemic, drastically hindering the nation’s recovery.
The conspiracy theories continue to float, thanks to social media, whose users apparently love to post wacky information more than science, and the public wars over unrelated debates over the origin of the disease and how best to punish China as the geographical source. China, by the way, is continuing its bad behavior towards international health organizations looking into the questions, refusing anew to cooperate or prove transparent.
The congressional hearing turned shouting match last week in which Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., accused virologist Dr. Anthony Fauci about a sub-sub-National Health Institutes grant to the originating Wuhan lab to better measure transmission was a classic about chewing valuable time for useless definitions of “gain of function” scientific research. Now Paul wants Fauci investigated and arrested by the Department of Justice for lying to Congress, though Paul himself faces no such threat.
Just why covid vaccines have become a symbol of America’s culture wars is a mystery, though the consequences are not. More than 99% of coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. now occur among unvaccinated people, yet even though the shots have been widely available in all 50 states for months, nearly half the population hasn’t received a single dose.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life found only 28% of Republicans reported receiving any encouragement from family and friends to get the vaccine, and more — 1 in 3 — reported actually being discouraged by friends and family, or receiving mixed messages. Only 45% of Republicanshave received at least one vaccine dose, compared to 86% of Democrats.
The “sudden pleading for people to get vaccinated,” said Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, “stems from the fact that they’re looking at their constituents die.”