I’ve always drawn a lot of my inspiration for writing from social media. When you hang on Twitter or Facebook for a while, you can see what the politically interested are talking about and what draws a response. As Democrats have learned in the recent past, making a big splash with the Twitterati doesn’t mean that you have your finger on the pulse of the nation, but it does show where the partisans are.
That was the case yesterday when I responded to a tweet by Dan Crenshaw that argued that, “Maybe ‘shutting down the virus’ could have included promoting a variety of safe early-stage treatments, including monoclonal antibodies.” Crenshaw then went on to argue that governors were “vilified for pushing treatments over mandates.”
Crenshaw is objectively wrong here, and my response was that a better way to shut down the virus was for Republicans to stop demonizing the COVID vaccines. After all, Crenshaw’s treatments do not shut down the virus since they can’t be used until someone is infected. Vaccines, on the other hand, even though they are not 100 percent effective, do stand a good chance of shutting down the virus and preventing an infection so that people never even get sick in the first place.
A lot of people took offense to that.
There were two major thrusts to the response. First, people argued that Republicans were anti-mandate rather than anti-vaccine, and second, several pointed out that some Democrats had opposed the vaccines while Trump was president.
I’ll address the second point first. I have been consistently pro-vaccine since long before the vaccines were approved. When the Democrats questioned the safety of the Trump vaccine, I disagreed.
It’s hard for many people to understand that there are quite a few of us who can disagree with both parties, often simultaneously, but here we are. If you’re consistent in your beliefs and principles, you’re going to find yourself as an outlier to both parties. That’s where I’m at.
The first point is a bit more complex. I do agree that it’s possible to be against the mandates while still being pro-vaccine. I’ve also found over the past couple of years that a lot of people claim to be anti-mandate as a cover for being anti-vaccine. A Venn diagram of anti-mandate and anti-vaccine people would have a lot of overlap, but would not be 100 percent.
As an example, I recall another conversation in which a guy told me that he wasn’t anti-vaccine but was just against mandates. When we talked further, I found that he was skeptical of vaccines because he believed a lot of anti-vax propaganda like the claim that vaccines could sterilize girls (this is not true by the way.) and that they were dangerous in various other ways as well.
It’s also not true that no Republican has ever attacked the COVID vaccines directly, another claim made by some Twitter users. We need only look back a few days to the suspension of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for mischaracterizing data from VAERS to make it appear that the COVID vaccines were killing people. I explained a few days ago how the VAERS data does not link adverse reactions to vaccines in a causal relationship. If you don’t believe me, it’s right there on the VAERS website in black and white.
This was a clear anti-vax attack and a very dishonest one. VAERS has been explained repeatedly to people like Greene yet they persist in their conspiracy theories. What do we call it when people persist in pushing falsehoods when they know the truth? A lie.
Lauren Boebert (R-Col.) provides another easy example of a Republican anti-vaxxer. Boebert claims to be anti-mandate, but the congresswoman, whose district has had the lowest vaccination rate in Colorado, has derided the vaccines as a “Fauci ouchie” and has made alarmist claims about a suggested door-to-door public health education campaign. She also claimed that voting Republican and turning off CNN could “make the Delta variant go away,” an apparent allegation that the entire pandemic is a hoax.
Boebert is far from the only Republican to attack health education about the vaccines. Jason Smith (R-Missouri) likened the door-knocking campaigns as “KGB-style” even though it would not force anyone to be vaccinated. And who can forget the conniptions the party went through when Big Bird got vaccinated on “Sesame Street?” To me, it seems far more anti-vaccine than anti-mandate to oppose public health education programs whose goal is to help people make an informed decision.
Even more respected Republicans like Chip Roy have jumped on the bandwagon. Roy was one of the Republicans whipping people into a frenzy about the door-knockers and took to Twitter to defend Greene after her suspension, saying “Big Healthcare doesn’t want us to discuss this.”
Republican vaccine resistance, if not outright opposition, is to a great extent a political ploy. Republicans have gloated over low vaccination rates and the winter surge as a defeat for Joe Biden (never mind that it’s bad for the country), but a large part of both talking points is that Republicans themselves have worked to undermine mitigation strategies from vaccines to masks. A large part of the GOP is resistant not only to vaccines but to almost any strategy to slow the spread of COVID. The Republican mantra has been “back to normal” since about May 2020.
One of the most insidious examples of Republican anti-vaxxerism is Ron DeSantis. It’s true that the Florida governor endorsed vaccines back in July, but it is also true that he got a lot of pushback from his base. Since then, DeSantis has increasingly flirted with the anti-vax wing of the Republican base, at one point sharing the stage with a speaker who alleged that mRNA COVID vaccines could change your DNA. (Spoiler alert: They don’t.) DeSantis has made the scientifically erroneous argument that vaccines are a personal choice that does affect others and downplayed vaccines in favor of post-infection treatments.
DeSantis obviously doesn’t believe all the anti-vax nonsense, he’s vaccinated himself, but he does see the political value in pandering to the anti-vaccine crowd. That political calculation is killing Floridians.
Since DeSantis began his war on COVID mitigations and vaccine mandates, Florida has risen steadily in terms of both cases and deaths. The Sunshine State has now passed New York to take third place in total deaths behind California and Texas. The DeSantis Administration responded yesterday with calls to reduce COVID testing, apparently taking the position that if we don’t know the extent of the COVID surge, it can't hurt us (or at least the governor's presidential aspirations).
As I began this piece, I did wonder whether Dan Crenshaw had endorsed vaccines. It took a little searching, but I did find a clip on Fox Business back in July where the Texas congressman said, “I think the vaccine is safe and effective. I also don't think you can be forced to take it.”
I appreciate that statement, but since then Crenshaw seems to have had few kind words for vaccines. Like DeSantis, he seems to have steered clear of the vaccine controversy by focusing on treatments rather than prevention. To some extent, being afraid to defend and endorse vaccines is a form of anti-vaxxerism. It certainly isn’t pro-vaccine.
In a pandemic, not being pro-vaccine isn’t much different from being anti-vax. It’s going along with the crowd and letting the tail wag the dog.
And there’s the real rub. A lot of Republican leaders don’t necessarily believe the anti-vax fearmongering that Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens, and others crank out on a daily basis, but they lack the moral courage to push back and tell their supporters the truth that vaccines are safe, effective, and the best way out of the pandemic.
This is not to say that all Republicans are anti-vax or are vaccine resisters. Donald Trump has become one of the few Republicans willing to stand up and defend the vaccines that his Administration helped to create. Other Republicans who have come out strongly in favor of vaccines are Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney. These and others who go against the anti-vax mob should be applauded.
I’m not against treatments for COVID-19. Treatments are an important part of the fight against the virus. But there shouldn’t be a battle between treatments and vaccines. It’s not an either/or proposition.
Vaccines have been shown to be effective at reducing COVID-19 infections, even when considering the variants. They have also been shown to be even more effective at preventing serious cases of the illness that lead to hospitalization or death. The best solution is to get vaccinated and hope you don’t get infected. If you do, treatments are the second line of defense.
I stand by my original claim that Republicans who have demonized the vaccine should follow Donald Trump’s example and admit that the shots are not only safe, they are medical marvels that greatly reduce the danger of COVID-19. That also goes for those Republicans who are trying to play it both ways.
We need more Republicans who are courageous enough to stand up and tell the truth, even when the crowd doesn’t want to hear it - especially when the crowd doesn’t want to hear it - but the situation we have now is one in which the people would rather believe a dystopian lie than the truth, and their leaders are afraid to challenge them.
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow to hear the newest Racketeer podcast on the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection.
I’m going to close with a Facebook screenshot from a friend in my hometown. I’ve deidentified the picture, but the man is a staunch Republican and I’m almost certain that he wasn’t vaccinated when he and his family got COVID over Christmas break.
The current surge of Omicron may be milder than previous variants, but that doesn’t mean that is not dangerous. It’s also true that Delta still lurks in many parts of the country. The post below was from January 2.
The last post on his timeline is below and was dated January 3. The situation sounds dire and shows some of the problems with relying on treatments after you’ve been infected.
I share these screenshots for two reasons. One is that my friend, Tim, could use your prayers. The second is as a cautionary tale. Don’t let this happen to you. Get vaccinated.
I think that Tim stands a decent chance of surviving based on his oxygen level, but his body has been wracked with COVID for weeks now, and even if he lives, he may have a long road to recovery. Christmas, which should be a happy time, was transformed into a season of sadness and pain for his family.
The saddest part is that it was unnecessary. Tim (probably) and many people suffering from COVID right now could have had a very mild case or not gotten sick at all if they had only gotten vaccinated.