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Republicans and supporters of Donald Trump are the least likely to say they will seek a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available to them.
That has led to calls for the former president to speak out more forcefully to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated.
“I think it’s very important for former President Trump, as well as the [former] vice president [Mike Pence], to actively encourage all of their followers to get the vaccine,” Adm. Brett Giroir, who was the coronavirus testing czar in the Trump administration, said Monday afternoon on CNN.
“We all have to get together and urge every American,” Giroir added. “The people who follow the former president are very committed to President Trump, and I think his leadership still matters a great deal.”
The push follows an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey last week that found that 49% of Republican men, 47% of Trump supporters and 41% of Republicans overall said they would not get a vaccine if one is made available to them.
A CNN poll released the same day showed an even higher 57% of Republicans saying, no, they will not try to get inoculated now that vaccines are authorized.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, Trump did urge people to get the vaccine — in a line sandwiched between insults of President Biden.
“He [Biden] got his vaccine,” Trump said. “He forgot. It shows you how unpainful all that vaccine shot is. So, everybody, go get your shot. He forgot, so it wasn’t very traumatic obviously, but he got his shot, and it’s good that he got his shot.”
Biden didn’t forget, and he purposely got his shot publicly to encourage all Americans to get it and show them that it is safe.
Trump and former first lady Melania Trump, on the other hand — who both were diagnosed with the coronavirus — were vaccinated in private before leaving office. That was something only confirmed after Trump’s CPAC speech.
Pence received his vaccine publicly.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the leading public face of scientists on the pandemic, was shown the NPR survey data on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, and said he thinks Trump should speak out.
“I hope he does, because the numbers that you gave are so disturbing,” Fauci said. “How such a large proportion of a certain group of people would not … want to get vaccinated merely because of political consideration, it makes absolutely no sense. … We’ve got to dissociate political persuasion from what’s commonsense, no-brainer public health things.”
On Fox News Sunday, Fauci called it “puzzling” that Trump hasn’t been more out front on the issue, including not participating in a public service announcement that included former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and even Jimmy Carter, who is 96.
“I think it would make all the difference in the world,” Fauci said. “He’s a very widely popular person among Republicans. If he came out and said, ‘Go and get vaccinated; it’s really important for your health, the health of your family and the health of the country,’ it seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close followers would listen to him.”
Of course, Trump doesn’t have a long track record of speaking out in favor of the science of vaccines. During a 2015 presidential primary debate, he lent credence to the false conspiracy that vaccines can lead to autism. They do not.
Giroir and Fauci seemed to offer Trump something of a playbook to help in the public vaccination effort — take a measure of credit, given that vaccine development and distribution began during his administration.
“This is something that the Trump administration developed under its time,” Giroir noted on CNN, “and I think all of the above, including the former president speaking out would be very important.”
“I mean clearly Operation Warp Speed started in the Trump administration,” Fauci said on Fox. “It was very successful in getting us the vaccines we have right now. It seems like an intrinsic contradiction, the fact that you had a program that was started during his presidency and he’s not out telling people to get vaccinated. I wish he would.”
An adviser close to the president did not immediately respond when asked if the president has any plans to do more to encourage his followers to get vaccinated.
For his part, Biden is not among those saying it is necessary for Trump to speak out.
When asked by a reporter Monday if his predecessor should help promote vaccines, Biden responded: “I discussed it with my team, and they say the thing that has more impact than anything Trump would say to the MAGA folks is what the local doctor, what the local preachers, what the local people in the community say. So I urge all local docs and ministers and priests … to talk about why — why it’s important to get it — to get that vaccine, and even after that, until everyone is in fact vaccinated, to wear this mask.”
Despite the hesitancy in some corners, more Americans are getting a vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 71 million Americans, or about 21% of the U.S. population, have gotten at least one shot, as of Monday afternoon.
Two-thirds of respondents in the NPR poll said they have either already been vaccinated or plan to when one comes available, which is higher than it had been in the survey previously.
But the numbers need to be even higher than that, scientists say, to feel comfortable with American society getting fully back toward normal.
With vaccines as safe, effective and potentially “lifesaving for millions of people” as the ones authorized are, Fauci said on Meet the Press he couldn’t “comprehend” why some are digging in and opposing it for political reasons.
“I just don’t get it,” he said.