It’s noteworthy when the second-most influential populist Republican in America makes the case for vaccines this clearly and concisely. In a saner world he’d be rewarded with increased popularity within his party (and beyond) because of it. And I *think* he will be.
But I wouldn’t bet everything I own on it. A few nights ago Tucker Carlson got mad because the head of the CDC described the next phase of COVID as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” which he resented as an attempt to put blame for the coming surge on vaccine skeptics. But … they are to blame. DeSantis has the numbers. And because he does, I don’t know how warmly he’d be received by Fox News primetime after this.
Credit to him for being a responsible leader. I like him more than I did yesterday.
A friend told me earlier today that he thought the uptick of pro-vaccine commentary on Fox News a few days ago was just the network trying to blunt media accusations of hypocrisy after the Fox “Clear Pass” was revealed, but that he’s since changed his mind. The fact that so many other Republicans in politics have begun talking up the vaccine this week suggests something bigger is afoot. Maybe it’s an organic response to all the reports about the Delta variant and vaccinations lagging in red states like Missouri and Arkansas where cases are surging. DeSantis’s own state led the nation in new cases yesterday, increasing the pressure on him to show he’s doing everything he can to stop the tide. Maybe Republicans are also hearing from the White House that they need more GOP vaccine cheerleading to move the numbers, and they’ve responded.
Or maybe they’ve seen polling that shows the party is at risk of being blamed by swing voters for any coming COVID crises and/or resulting economic crises if party leaders don’t become more enthusiastic about vaccination.
Whatever’s going on, it ain’t just DeSantis who’s trying to make the sale.
“These shots need to get in everybody’s arm as rapidly as possible, or we’re going to be back in a situation in the fall that we don’t yearn for, that we went through last year,” McConnell said during his weekly news conference. “I want to encourage everybody to do that and to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.”…
“I got it, my parents got it, my sister who is immunocompromised got it . . . so it’s a personal decision,” said Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.), a former White House physician. “The Doctors Caucus in general is supportive of the vaccine and trying to promote the vaccine. I’m also not an anti-vaxxer.”
In a renewed step to amplify the message, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) “to discuss the implications of the Delta Variant” by urging vaccinations while also reiterating the need to keep schools and businesses open.
Southern populists are joining the effort too. Tommy Tuberville posted a link to this too-bad-to-check story from his home state of Alabama:
A hospital physician based in Birmingham claimed on Facebook a few days ago that she’s seeing more young, healthy people being admitted with serious COVID cases. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late,” she wrote. Is that true or just a little scared-straight anecdote she cooked up to try to frighten twentysomethings into getting their shots? There’s reason for skepticism, especially since other unvaccinated people are known to be defiant to the bitter end. “Had a patient in the icu two months ago dying of covid who was insulting his nurse for having been vaccinated,” a Twitter pal claimed today. One health-care executive in hard-hit Missouri told The Atlantic recently, “We had someone spit in a nurse’s eye because she told him he had COVID and he didn’t believe her.” People who are suddenly confronted by the fact that they’ve made a momentous mistake are more likely to double down, even in a dire medical situation, I suspect, than admit error.
But not all will. The Atlantic piece cites another story of an elderly man who passed on the shot and then ended up very sick, telling the hospital staff, “I’m embarrassed that I’m here.” I hope he survived.
Anyway, another basic reason for sensible Republicans like DeSantis to put out the pro-vaccine word is simply to counterprogram the less sensible members of the party who won’t stop scaremongering, even if it’s only in a sly “I’m just asking questions” way. Yesterday Marjorie Taylor Greene reiterated at a press conference that the vaccines are “experimental” and noted that there are 12,000 deaths reported in the CDC’s VAERS system before hedging by saying she wasn’t claiming any causal link.
Then she was asked if she’s been vaccinated (my guess is no) and uncorked this:
She’s not a lawyer but she is a lawmaker, God help us. You’d think she’d take five minutes to acquaint herself with HIPAA if only to avoid misleading millions of Republicans who like her. That statute prevents a medical provider to whom you’ve given health information in confidence from revealing that information without your consent. They can’t release your private data because it’s your data. Being asked about your vaccination status doesn’t violate your confidence or share any of your private information, though. It simply invites you to do so, and you can decline that invitation. Why is this so hard for people to understand?
DeSantis, McConnell, and the rest are also up against cynical populists with big platforms who are happy to promote vaccine anxiety because they think it’s what their audience wants to hear. This is evil, and dumb:
The U.S. had 574,000 excess deaths from all causes last year, before the vaccines had been rolled out. Figure we’ve had around 150,000 give or take in 2021, as COVID mortality has dropped. How the hell would hundreds of thousands or even a million people be dead from vaccination without the excess-deaths data showing a massive surge? Did Kirk spend six seconds thinking this through before he went on air with it?
There’s one last factor that may have goosed DeSantis and other Republicans into being more outspoken in support of vaccination. Three days ago Trump put out a statement speculating that the reason so many people don’t believe Joe Biden about vaccine safety is because they don’t believe him about the legitimacy of his election win either. That was ominous as it risked having MAGA fans conclude that if they got vaccinated they’d be somehow validating Biden’s claim that he won fair and square. Once that idea starts to spread, good luck getting any of them to “betray” Trump by getting their shots. The GOP pushback lately may be a way of counterprogramming Trump or signaling to him that the party’s not going to go along with him if he decides to start discouraging vaccination in backhanded ways.
I’ll leave you with a bit more of DeSantis, warning that it’s foolish to insult the unvaccinated when you’re trying to persuade them to get their shots. That’s true, and also a smart way for him to try to retain their sympathy even as he’s pushing a message on vaccines which they resist.