Operation Warp Speed, the program to develop vaccines against COVID-19, was supposed to be the showpiece of Donald Trump’s campaign to curb the pandemic. The ex-president made a show of trying to waive aside vaccine trials with a distortion of Russian history: “Putin approved Sputnik and then got the data later.”
There were trials, however… successful trials, which yielded three effective vaccines approved by the FDA for emergency use against COVID-19.
The vaccines have gone into millions of arms, especially in coastal states. Appallingly, however, as COVID’s delta variant rages, erasing progress made in combating the pandemic, about thirty-four percent of Americans over the age of twelve and about forty-four percent of the country’s entire population have yet to be vaccinated against the most deadly respiratory disease they’re likely to face.
Resistance to vaccination sadly reflects America’s political divisions.
It is centered among Republicans, followers of Trump, and in states he carried last November. In Alabama, the vaccination rate is only thirty-four percent, leading Republican governor Kay Ivey to say last week: “Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to blame the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”
It’s just the latest proof that there’s no such thing as common sense.
Demagogues with a platform, like Fox’s Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, are waging a campaign of fear against vaccination. The man who boasts about Operation Warp Speed – Trump has even suggested the vaccines be named after him – has yet to use his influence to get them to stop endangering people.
Carlson, vacationing in Montana, was confronted this week in a fly fishing store by a Montanan named Dan Bailey, who posted a video clip of the encounter.
In the clip, Bailey can seen looking Carlson in the face and be heard telling him: “You are the worst human being known to mankind. I want you to know that.”
“This man has killed more people with vaccine misinformation, he has supported extreme racism, he is a fascist and does more to rip this country apart than anyone that calls themselves an American,” Bailey wrote in the Instagram caption accompanying his video, which has been viewed tens of thousands of times.
That’s a pretty apt synopsis of the trouble we’re in.
“The problem right now is that the voices of these credible public health professionals are getting drowned out,” United States Surgeon General Vivek Murphy told a White House briefing last week.
The demagoguery is out there for all to see.
It’s not just Fox hosts, either. Republican officials are engaged in it, too.
After President Joe Biden talked about promoting vaccination “community by community” and “neighborhood by neighborhood,” Senator Marsha Blackburn, R‑Tennessee, falsely responded with these fearmongering words: “Joe Biden is sending agents to your door to compel vaccinations.”
Governor Mike Parson of Missouri, his state an epicenter for the Delta variation, accused the President of “trying to scare” the citizenry.
“Don’t come knocking on my door with your ‘Fauci ouchie’: You leave us the hell alone,” Representative Laren Boebert, R‑Colorado, told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, serving as a warmup act for Trump.
Representative Madison Cawthorn, R‑North Carolina, warned that the door-to-door vaccination campaign could lead to confiscation of Bibles and guns.
The result: Polls have found forty-five percent of Republicans saying they will not get vaccinated, with thirty-one percent fearing the federal government will insert a tracking chip when the needle is plunged into their arms.
Trump has done nothing to counter these falsehoods.
Why not? The failure to vaccinate is setting off a fourth wave of the pandemic, centered in states that Trump carried last November. The highest incidence of new cases comes in Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is peddling “Don’t Fauci my Florida” stickers when he appears – nonstop – on FNC.
The “butcher bill”, even among right-wing foot soldiers, may be acceptable given the objectives of those fanning doubts. Republicans have weaponized fear, fostering hostility toward science, demonizing medical experts and research universities, and sneering at so-called “elites.” I doubt that Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham believe a word of their anti-mask rhetoric or warnings about vaccinating children, but the propagation of fear boosts ratings.
Trump is a money machine, having raised more than $75 million in recent months, money that is not spent to challenge 2020 election results but rather goes to the care, feeding and travel of the leader, with much of the loot squirreled away.
Fear brings in the bucks.
To keep milking the cash cow, you need to ceaselessly create targets of fear.
“Republicans invent things to provoke paranoia,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes Sunday, discussing Republican denial of climate damage.
As well, the goal is to create impressions rather than solving problems.
As operation Warp Speed developed vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control was faced with mapping out a fifty-state plan for distribution starting in January of 2021. But the Trump regime took money out of the CDC’s budget.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D‑Washington, asked the CDC ‘s Dr. Robert Redfield where the lost dollars had gone. He replied that the administration had transferred $300 million of CDC money to the Department of Health and Human Services’ public affairs office. The money was restored by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on health and human services, then chaired by Senator Roy Blount, R‑Missouri, with Murray the ranking Democrat.
Secretary Alex Azar wanted to fire Redfield.
Such were the knives out in a regime wrestling with the country’s worst health crisis in one hundred and two years. The Murray-Blount story is told in the new book “I Alone Can Fix It” by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker.
One more fear factor is at play – fear by right-wing politicians and pundits at what they have unleashed. It is dangerous to breathe a word of truth, even if done so rarely. The camp followers aren’t used to it. Last week, speaking on his Fox primetime show, Sean Hannity declared: “Enough people have died. We don’t need more death. I believe in the science of vaccination.”
The comment drew a storm of protest from his core audience. Hannity backtracked less than forty-eight hours later, saying: “Well, first of all – I’m not urging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine because I’m not a doctor. What I said, I said to take it seriously. It might kill you. I said to do a lot of research.”
What a stomach-turning situation for the country.
Trump wants to claim credit for developing the vaccines, yet his followers resist being jabbed. The ex-president’s favorite boot lickers in Congress and right wing media spread fears and exploit the nation’s divisions. Trump cashes in on those divisions, and by mocking public health experts. Millions go unvaccinated.
Trump was quietly vaccinated against COVID-19 before leaving office, a rare unpublicized action in his highly public, tabloid-anchored life.
For half a year, he’s had an opportunity to bring on board his followers. He could do a service to his country, but instead he serves only himself, as usual.
The ramifications are deadly.