Opinion: How vaccinations became a political football
It began with a press conference at the White House in early February 2020. The President took the podium and announced the coronavirus was about to disappear. Not just from public consciousness, he meant, but from his radar.
This might have been Donald Trump’s seminal error. For COVID-19 went on to kill more than 600,000 Americans and also bury many thousands of businesses, large and small. His handling of the virus became the main issue of last year’s presidential election until Trump made the repeated big lie about rampant voting fraud an even bigger issue. In the end, both matters moved millions of former Trump voters into current President Joe Biden’s column because both revealed Trump as a persistent, determined liar, a reality that remains his albatross today while he tries to resurrect his political career.
But Trump has not been alone on this journey. He took many millions of Americans with him, convincing them to adopt his stated belief system.
Now we fast forward to the spring of 2021, almost 18 months after Trump’s ultra wrong reading of Covid’s future.
He is long gone from the White House and may never return, no matter what he may claim, depending on the outcome of a variety of criminal investigations into his activities before and during his presidency. But Trump’s questioning the seriousness of the virus remains in play, carried on by many of his supporters. These folks are still skeptical it ever really represented a threat, despite all the deaths state, local and federal medical authorities attribute to it.
Millions among Trump’s following believe COVID-19 is little more than an influenza variant that only killed people with prior conditions exacerbated by the new virus. Many also doubt both the necessity and the efficacy of the three main vaccines still being injected into the arms of myriad Americans older than 12.
Wrote one reader of this column, “The ‘vaccine’ for Covid… harms human RNA and does nothing to cure or prevent the COVID-19 virus… Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci both are profiting from the ‘vaccine’ and had a hand in developing the virus itself.” That message comes straight from the list of claims made regularly by active Trump supporters.
Their beliefs were among the reasons why, early in the vaccine rollout, polls showed about half of Republicans planning to forego getting vaccinated. That figure is down somewhat now, but remains far higher than the 5 percent of Democrats who tell pollsters they plan never to be jabbed.
Those survey results are playing out in real life around California. In counties where Republicans dominate state and local elections, about half the percentage of senior citizens got the shots as in counties dominated by Democrats.
In counties like Tehama, Shasta and Del Norte, only about one-third of folks over 65 had been fully vaccinated by late spring, compared with about two-thirds in suburban counties like Contra Costa and Marin, where Democrats run the local governments.
In one largely pro-Republican area, the health officer for Del Norte County, hard by the Oregon border, told a reporter that “We definitely (have) in common…a fairly high percentage of people who are vaccine hesitant.” Del Norte County last fall gave Trump a 62 percent majority.
Even since the county expanded vaccine eligibility to everyone older than 12, said health officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt, available vaccination time slots often go unused.
Meanwhile, long lines of cars waited in the huge parking lots of places like Dodger Stadium, the Forum and Cal State Northridge in urban, Democratic Los Angeles County, which cut its Covid incidence down by more than 28 percent after the first two weeks vaccinations were open to everyone 50 years or older.
Which means that contrary to the reader who said vaccines don’t work, they clearly do. Just ask operators of nursing homes, where caseloads and deaths from the virus are down by more than 96 percent from last winter’s peak levels.
The links between politics and vaccine hesitation are very clear, furthered by the half-hearted endorsement the fully vaccinated Trump gave the shots.
It remains to be seen whether health officials can cut through such resistance or whether needed herd immunity can be achieved even if they can’t.
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Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.