With Delta variant infections spiking across the United States, growing numbers of Republican officials and lawmakers have joined the chorus of support for coronavirus vaccinations, swatting aside conspiracies that have left millions of Americans unprotected.
Covid-19 deaths and hospitalization rates are rising nationwide, with the vast majority of new fatalities and serious cases among the unvaccinated.
With the political rift over pandemic response running deep, conservative messaging about masks, social distancing, vaccines and lockdowns has remained controversial.
And with polls showing that far more Democrats than Republicans are vaccinated, inoculations have become the newest coronavirus battle line.
For months conservatives suspicious of government and adamant about maintaining personal freedoms have held anti-vaccination protests in New Hampshire, California and elsewhere.
The anti-vax positions embraced by many Republicans are particularly curious given it was ex-president Donald Trump himself, still the party flagbearer, who claims credit for launching Operation Warp Speed to develop and distribute the vaccines in record time.
But with distrust of government churning, and stubbornly high vaccine hesitancy in states like Arkansas, Florida and Missouri fueling transmission of the virus, Republican leaders are redoubling efforts to win over skeptics.
On Thursday number two House Republican Steve Scalise joined the chamber’s GOP Doctors Caucus, a group of 18 lawmakers who are licensed medical experts, to tell Americans to “get the vaccine.”
“I have high confidence in it, I got it myself,” he told a press conference.
Scalise had hesitated for months to get vaccinated, but he received a shot this week because “with the Delta variant I felt I wanted that extra level of protection.”
Caucus member Mariannette Miller-Meeks has appeared in public service announcements urging people to get vaccinated, and said she has administered the jabs to residents in her Iowa district.
“There’s not one doctor here that doesn’t want people vaccinated,” congressman Greg Murphy added about fellow caucus members.
Their comments followed those by higher-profile Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who made an unusually blunt plea to Americans.
“If there is anybody out there willing to listen, get vaccinated,” the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday, urging people to ignore the “demonstrably bad advice” that has been circulating during the pandemic.
That advice — often based on the premise that the vaccines have only been green-lighted for emergency use and not full authorization, or baseless claims that the vaccines include microchips to track citizens — has led millions of people to opt out.
– ‘Enough people have died’ –
Several Republican governors — including some who have expressed hostility to federal anti-pandemic efforts — are now urging residents to get vaccinated.
In Arkansas, one of the states leading the country in new Covid cases, Governor Asa Hutchinson launched a seven-city tour begging skeptics to change their minds.
“The vaccine keeps people alive,” he tweeted.
Some television commentators in the conservative media landscape have joined the trend, although their messages are often more subtle or nuanced.
On Fox, the top-rated cable station which has been accused of trafficking in vaccine skepticism for months, star anchor Sean Hannity, who once described the virus as a hoax, reversed course Monday.
“I can’t say it enough. Enough people have died. We don’t need any more death,” Hannity said on his broadcast.
“It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated,” he added. “I believe in the science of vaccination.”
But the messaging is often mixed. Several Republican lawmakers still refuse to say whether they have been vaccinated.
Doctors Caucus congressman Ronny Jackson, Trump’s personal physician when he was president, tried and failed to suggest Democrats too were refusing to reveal their status.
When he urged the media to ask Democrats whether they were vaccinated, a reporter matter-of-factly noted that 100 percent of House Democrats have announced they are protected.
“Do we have any evidence of that?” Jackson stumbled.
Other Republicans have expressed open opposition to vaccines, causing headaches for party leaders eager to halt Covid’s spread.
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, fined in May for not wearing a mask on the House floor, was temporarily suspended from Twitter this week for spreading Covid misinformation.
She had tweeted that there have been thousands of “vax related deaths,” and that the virus is not dangerous for healthy people under 65.
by Michael Mathes