“I’m perplexed by the reluctance of some to get vaccinated, totally perplexed,” he said.
Let me help!
Maybe just maybe — and I am spitballing here — the relentless efforts by former President Donald Trump and his Fox News cohorts to question the severity of the coronavirus, scoff at medical guidance on mask-wearing and cast the whole response to — and vaccination for — Covid-19 as an issue of freedom as opposed to one of public health might have something to do with it?
While Trump has been vaccinated — and has said he thinks others should get vaccinated too — he was the only living president not to participate in a public service announcement urging shots in arms, and he spent much of the previous 16 months downplaying the virus and vilifying the health care experts seeking to mitigate the number of dead from it.
Fox News’ most-watched primetime show has led the way when it comes to raising questions about whether to get the vaccine. (Sidebar: You should!)
As far back as January, Tucker Carlson has devoted large chunks of his show to highlighting anecdotal evidence of people who had negative experiences with the vaccine — and casting this all as an issue of freedom.
“In this country, we control our own bodies. They are always telling us that. But no. Suddenly, the rules have changed. On the question of the corona vaccine, our leaders definitely are not pro-choice. Their view is do as you are told and don’t complain. No uncomfortable questions. Those are not just suggestions, they are rules and Silicon Valley aims to enforce them.”
Carlson’s anti-vax rhetoric has only grown more heated since. As CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote of Carlson’s opening thoughts during a May show:
“The 15-minute monologue began with an on-screen banner that said ‘EVERYONE IN AUTHORITY WANTS YOU TO GET YOUR VACCINE,’ and it went downhill from there.”
Carlson’s guests, too, push this anti-vaccine message. Earlier this week, conservative talking head Charlie Kirk compared colleges and universities requiring the Covid-19 vaccine to an “apartheid-style, open-air hostage situation.”
Given all of that, it should come as no surprise at all — to McConnell or anyone else — that you can track Covid-19 vaccinations rates by the percentage of the vote Trump won in 2020.
In states he won big — Idaho, Oklahoma etc. — vaccinations rates are running well under 50%. Where Trump lost overwhelmingly — Vermont, Massachusetts — vaccination rates are some of the highest in the country.
In short: You can literally overlay the 2020 map on the current vaccination map and have an almost-perfect match. Blue states have the most heavily vaccinated populations; red states have the least vaccinated populations.
McConnell knows all of this. And in that same event in Kentucky on Thursday, he let slip that he did.
“To use a sports analogy, we’re in the red zone, the last 20 yards before the end zone, but we’re not in the end zone yet because there is resistance for various reasons that seem to have gotten caught up in politics,” said McConnell.
Yup. Trump, with a major assist from the likes of Carlson and others — though not all — at Fox News turned vaccination against a virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans into a political issue. And no, it didn’t have to be this way. The vast majority of Americans get a tetanus shot or an MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine without a word of protest.
Less perplexed now?