How Republican Coronavirus Vaccine Opposition Got to This Point


After Sherri Tenpenny, a Cleveland-area doctor, falsely suggested during a hearing last month in the Ohio House of Representatives that Covid vaccines left people “magnetized” and could “interface” with 5G cellular towers, Republican lawmakers thanked her for her “enlightening” testimony.

In Congress, Republicans who once praised the Trump administration for its work facilitating the swift development of the vaccines now wage campaigns of vaccine misinformation, sowing doubts about safety and effectiveness from the Capitol.

And this week, Republican state lawmakers in Tennessee successfully pressured health officials to stop outreach to children for all vaccines. The guidance prohibits sending reminders about the second dose of a Covid vaccine to adolescents who had received one shot and communicating about routine inoculations, like the flu shot.

A wave of opposition to Covid vaccines has risen within the Republican Party, as conservative news outlets produce a steady diet of misinformation about vaccines and some G.O.P. lawmakers invite anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists to testify in statehouses and Congress. With very little resistance from party leaders, these Republican efforts have elevated falsehoods and doubts about vaccinations from the fringes of American life to the center of our political conversation.

But over the past few months, the shift within the party has accelerated, as some supporters of Mr. Trump embrace the belief that the national effort to promote Covid vaccinations is harmful, unconstitutional or perhaps even a sign of a nefarious government plot.

“Think about what those mechanisms could be used for,” Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina said of the Biden administration’s plan to go door-to-door to reach millions of unvaccinated Americans, going on to claim without evidence: “They could then go door-to-door to take your guns. They could go door-to-door to take your Bibles.”

In a report this month, the Kaiser Family Foundation found a growing vaccination divide between Republican and Democratic areas, with nearly 47 percent of people in counties won by President Biden fully vaccinated, compared with 35 percent of people in Trump counties. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 47 percent of Republicans said they weren’t likely to get vaccinated, compared with just 6 percent of Democrats.

As Covid cases across the country rise, nearly all recent hospitalizations and deaths have occurred among unvaccinated people, White House officials have said. While the national outlook remains much better than during previous upticks, Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, this week issued his first advisory of the Biden administration, warning of the “urgent threat” of health misinformation.

There’s a tendency among Republican leaders to quietly — and sometimes not-so-quietly — attribute the support for fringe beliefs and figures to Mr. Trump. But when it comes to vaccinations, it’s difficult to pin the blame on the former president.

Mr. Trump has eagerly taken credit for the accelerated development process of the vaccines, and has urged Americans to get vaccinated. (He did, however, quietly receive a vaccine in private before he left office, rather than hold a public event for the shot that might have encouraged his supporters to follow his lead.) In an interview with Fox News last month, the former president expressed some concern about vaccinating “very young people” but said he remained a “big believer in what we did with the vaccine.”



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