Republican elites loved Covid-19 vaccines until Joe Biden became president

GOP officials used to advocated for public vaccinations, now they spread lies about them
U.S. Senator Rand Paul speaking with attendees at the 2020 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. December 19, 2020. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

First published at Daily Kos

Here’s a quote from a vaccine supporter who was anxious to see the FDA give early approval to Pfizer back in November: “I’ve been a big proponent of releasing it early. I think that we’ve had enough safety and effectiveness data.” Another person encouraged by the rapid production of the vaccines praised the “brilliant” way in which Project Warp Speed had made vaccines available so quickly.

As The Washington Post reports, that first person praising the early release of vaccines was Republican Sen. Rand Paul. The second was Sen. Ron Johnson. 

They were just two of many Republicans who were perfectly happy to brag when vaccines were under development, crediting Donald Trump for the speed with which they became available. They were happy to cheer for Trump even though both the Pfizer/BioNTech vand Moderna vaccines were actually created months before Trump started the program, Pfizer actually received no funds for developing its vaccine, and the two biggest investments that Operation Warp Speed made—to Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline and Novavax—have yet to produce one dose of available vaccine. Still, there were vaccines. And Trump had funded vaccines. So vaccines … yah!

Only Trump never put in place a system to effectively distribute vaccines. When he left office, only about 1% of the nation had been vaccinated and the biggest complaint from states was that the vaccine supply was inadequate. It took President Joe Biden immediately mounting a program of additional vaccine purchases, providing states with levels of vaccine expected, and creating thousands of vaccination sites, large and small, to get the nation where it is now—with 59% of all adults fully vaccinated, 69% with at least one shot, and just under 100% of the rest being Republicans who won’t get the shot because it’s not coming from Trump.

To be fair, Republican vaccine resistance has been high from the beginning. Civiqs actually shows vaccine refusal by Republicans increasing after the vaccines became available under Trump. Since then the lines have been almost flat, and currently 44% of Republicans say they will not take the vaccine. Just 2% of those who have not already been vaccinated say they intend to get vaccinated.

That resistance has held in spite of a huge spike in cases over the holidays that saw official death totals top 600,000. It’s held even as the delta variant has turned red counties into red-hot spots of disease. It’s held in spite of the fact that 99.2% of COVID-19 deaths in the month of May were among those who remain unvaccinated.

Part of the reason is because that resistance has been constantly supported by both right-wing media and Republican politicians. When Ronny Jackson was a White House physician last November, he said he would get vaccinated. Now U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson falsely claims that the vaccines are “experimental” and warns Fox viewers to think twice.

Or how about this pair of statements:

1. “Everyone in America can have the COVID-19 vaccine thanks to President Donald J Trump and everyone who worked on Operation Warp Speed. President Trump saved lives!”

2. “Thousands of people are reporting very serious life changing vaccine side effects from taking covid vaccines.5,946 deaths are reported on the CDC website. Social media is censoring their stories & the media is silent. Biden is going to homes to push shots. Just say NO!”

Both of those statements come from the new leader of the Republican Party, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Greene’s statements also illustrate another source used in keeping up vaccine resistance: conspiracy theories and rumors. In a party that’s gone all on QAnon, Pizzagate, and the Big Lie, Republicans are seeing stories like this one from the BBC in which a Miami private school didn’t just not require vaccinations by it’s teachers, it actively discouraged vaccination and warned people against associating with those who have been vaccinated. A letter from the school stated: “We cannot allow recently vaccinated people to be near our students until more information is known,” citing claims that people had been “negatively impacted” just by being near someone who had accepted the vaccine.

And then there was the claim published in Robert Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vax site The Defender (link intentionally omitted) that claims that studies showing high vaccine efficacy were false, that getting the vaccine if you’ve had COVID-19 can make you seriously ill, and that since people can have asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, getting the vaccine puts everyone at ”potential risk of harm, including death.” 

Or the claim that vaccines are actually generating new variants that has circulated widely on social media.  Or the Facebook site of far-right author Liz Wheeler, which just last week began pushing a claim that “A peer reviewed, scientific study showed that the COVID-19 vaccine causes two deaths for every three lives it saves.”

Buoyed up on a bed of lies and, with Republicans now finding it much more convenient to attack the vaccine than protect the health of the nation, it shouldn’t be surprising that The Washington Post is reporting vaccine hesitancy has turned into vaccine hostility. Republicans aren’t just refusing to get a shot—they are actively cheering the fact that vaccinations are slowing and disease is spreading. They’re framing President Biden’s call for volunteers to conduct door-to-door canvasses for residents who might have difficulty accessing a vaccine into a sinister attempt to get “government agents” into every home. A plot, says Rep. Madison Cawthorn, that is maximum Big Brother. “Think about the mechanisms they would have to build to be able to actually execute that massive of a thing,”  said Cawthorn. “And then think about what those mechanisms could be used for. They could then go door-to-door and take your guns, they could go door-to-door and take your Bibles.”

Republicans were happy to push the idea of the vaccines when they could attribute that idea to Trump. Now they’re working hard to keep their party stoked on the two Republican food groups: fear and hate.

And they have definitely inoculated their supporters against truth.