The politicization of COVID-19 vaccines is reaching a new crescendo with some Republicans misconstruing President Joe Biden’s call for community outreach efforts—which he said would involve “literally knocking on doors”—as a call for government overreach. As has been the case throughout the pandemic and during the vaccine outreach, politics continues to play a role.
As CNN relayed, “Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted that Biden had ‘deployed his Needle Nazis’ to her district, while Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan implied that Biden’s proposed community outreach was merely a precursor for more government oversight, tweeting, ‘The Biden Administration wants to knock on your door to see if you’re vaccinated. What’s next? Knocking on your door to see if you own a gun?’”
But some Republicans now appear to be pushing back against more extreme members of their party who are playing politics with the vaccine, even though what are typically straightforward public health policies, including the use of masks, have been tainted by partisan rancor throughout the pandemic.
“We don’t control conservative media figures so far as I know—at least I don’t,” Sen. Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, was quoted as saying in a New York Times article exploring the issue.
He added, “That being said, I think it’s an enormous error for anyone to suggest that we shouldn’t be taking vaccines. Look, the politicization of vaccination is an outrage and frankly moronic.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s minority leader, related to the current vaccination situation by talking about himself, saying, “As a polio victim myself when I was young, I’ve studied that disease. It took 70 years—70 years—to come up with two vaccines that finally ended the polio threat.”
“As a result of Operation Warp Speed,” he added, crediting the Trump Administration initiative, “we have not one, not two, but three highly effective vaccines, so I’m perplexed by the difficulty we have finishing the job.”
“If you’re a football fan,” McConnell added, “we’re in the red zone. But we’re not in the end zone yet. And we need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important.”
Yet, as that article noted, Republicans are being careful to not criticize those who have spoken out against vaccines. When asked about his interactions with other Senate Republicans on the issue, McConnell said, “I can only speak for myself, and I just did.”
The Times article characterized GOP senators like Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson as having “given voice to vaccine skepticism,” and noted that Republicans looking to get re-elected “cannot afford to see a resurgent coronavirus disproportionately hurt conservative voters, who have been fed a diet of misinformation about vaccines by right-leaning news outlets and commentators,” but also can’t afford to “alienate” those same voters.
That leads to strategies like the one taken by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who attributes much of vaccine skepticism to conspiracy theorists and who says of getting vaccinated, “I do acknowledge the right of an individual to decide whether they’re going to get the vaccine, but what I’ve tried to do is encourage everybody to get the vaccine.”
He also tried to characterize vaccination as more of a need in his state’s metro areas, saying that in more rural areas of Texas, “social distancing is not a problem, let me say.”
But that doesn’t correspond with current trends. As Bloomberg noted, rural regions in Missouri and Arkansas are at the forefront of a case number uptick seemingly corresponding with low vaccination rates. And Texas appears to be gearing up for a potential round of new cases—KTVT-TV (the CBS affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth) reported that the Biden Administration is funneling more than $29 million to 115 rural hospitals in Texas for COVID-19 testing and mitigation.