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Tag: vaccine hesitancy

Finally Vaccinated, Scalise Falsely Blames Democrats For Red-State Hesitancy

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

In case you missed it, the political race is suddenly on to point fingers over the latest coronavirus surge ripping through red states and highlighting the severely lagging vaccination rates among Republican voters in particular.

According to the White House, seven states have accounted for half of all new U.S. COVID-19 cases over the past week: Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Among that group, Florida and Texas have led the charge, contributing one-third of all new cases. The obvious trend is that nearly every one of those states is run entirely by Republicans. Louisiana is the only outlier, seating a Democratic governor while both state legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans.

Senate Republicans and some governors are now making a sudden push to rewrite history about their own party's malignant disinformation campaign on the vaccines. But some House Republicans are attempting something even more preposterous—blaming Democrats for the vaccine hesitancy and rejection that has flourished in red America.

Chief among them is GOP House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who spent months putting off getting vaccinated before having an abrupt change of heart in late July. As the delta variant started ravaging his state, Scalise was photographed getting the jab. At a press conference several days later, he told reporters, "I would encourage people to get the vaccine. I have high confidence in it. I got it myself."

But quickly adopting a pro-vaccine posture wasn't enough for Scalise. On July 26, he posted a disinformation video claiming, "Democrats have a history of vaccine misinformation and not trusting the science."

Using sound bites from last fall—before the vaccines had even been developed—the video features then-candidate Joe Biden, his running mate, then-Sen. Kamala Harris, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressing doubts about the Trump administration's push to develop the vaccine before the November election.

At the time, Trump had become obsessed with the idea of announcing a vaccine prior to Election Day, viewing it as a cure-all for his reckless mismanagement of the pandemic.

In September, with roughly 200,000 Americans already succumbing to COVID-19, Trump started publicly pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to approve a vaccine forthwith. As the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler recounts, on Sept. 23, Trump said the White House might even overrule the FDA if it moved too slowly on approval. Simultaneously, FDA leadership was pushing back in an effort to maintain public confidence in any vaccines that did eventually emerge. "FDA will not authorize or approve a vaccine that we would not feel comfortable giving to our families," said FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn.

Crucially, for the sake of his reelection, Trump was actively warring with the scientists charged with keeping the American public safe. It's in that context that some Democrats began to express concerns about the integrity of the approval process under Trump. But Scalise's video plucks comments made in that early fall timeframe devoid of all context.

"The first question is: Is the vaccine safe? Frankly, I'm not going to trust the federal government's opinion," Gov. Cuomo said at a Sept. 24 press conference.

When a vaccine finally is approved, Biden worried on Sept. 2, "Who's going to take the shot? Who's going to take the shot? Are you going to be the first one to say sign me up? They now say it's okay."

Harris, asked on Sept. 6 if she would take the shot, responded, "Well, I think that's going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump."

In her vice presidential debate on Oct. 8, Harris offered, "But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I'm not taking it." What wasn't included in Scalise's disinformation montage was her preceding sentence, "If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely."

Republicans have clearly looked at their polling and realized their staunch anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-mitigation posture is a political liability. They have good reason to worry—Trump's epic mishandling of the pandemic sealed his fate in 2020. Consequently, many Republicans are pulling a complete 180 on messaging and hoping the American public will forget which party stoked doubt, fear, and even animosity toward the Biden administration's all-hands-on-deck effort to get shots in arms and restore some sense of normalcy to both the U.S. economy and American life.

Whether the GOP gaslighting works remains to be seen. But for now, most Americans know exactly which party stymied the vaccination effort, and it sure as heck wasn't Democrats.

Dragging The Vaccine Refusers Out From Under The Porch

Let's say there's an outbreak of deadly parvovirus in your neighborhood. Your beloved golden retriever Red, however, goes into a full-scale panic attack at the sight or smell of a veterinarian. You know the disease is highly communicable and potentially fatal.

There's a reliable vaccine, but the dog won't listen. Runs and hides under the porch. Fights the leash like a smallmouth bass on a hook. Rolls over on his back and has to be dragged, panting and drooling. Maybe even bites the hand that feeds him.

God forbid you should force the issue. No vaccine shot for Red. Even a dog has his rights, after all, among them the right to die in agony while shedding the deadly virus all over the neighborhood.

Put that way, the whole national "debate" over the Covid-19 vaccine seems kind of crazy, doesn't it? When the vaccine refuser is a golden retriever, we take action because we understand that the dog can't be reasoned with.

(When I lived in the country, I learned to administer my own vaccinations. I also prevented the animals from watching Fox News. It only riles up the cows.)

That said, I agree with the Republican governor of Alabama. Asked what it would take to convince her constituents to get vaccinated—Alabama is among the least-protected in the nation—Gov. Kay Ivey responded "I don't know. You tell me. Folks [are] supposed to have common sense. But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down."

Trouble is, folks tend not to have a lot of common sense when they're frightened. Not much more than their ancestors in 14th century Europe who blamed the Black Death on Jews poisoning wells. Also on Gypsies, beggars and foreigners generally. Many lepers were put to death.

Mainly, though, it was the Jews.

Dr. Fauci isn't a Jew, but he'll do for a certain kind of fool. I think we all know the kind I mean.

My man Charles P. Pierce of Esquire found an article about an Alabama physician on AL.com. Dr. Brytney Cobia wrote a Facebook post about admitting young, previously healthy patients to a COVID ward in Birmingham.

"One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg me for the vaccine," she wrote. "I hold their hand and tell them that I'm sorry, but it's too late."

After they die, Cobia continued: "I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same."

"They cry. And they tell me they didn't know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn't get as sick. They thought it was 'just the flu'. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can't."

She prays that people will learn.

Many white Southerners, Politico reports, "are turning down Covid-19 vaccines because they are angry that President Donald Trump lost the election and sick of Democrats in Washington thinking they know what's best."

Especially, of course, when they do.

Possibly they'll listen to Gov. Ivey or Dr. Cobia, but not soon enough, I fear. Besides, as in the 14th century, paranoia is worldwide. There was a recent anti-vaccine rally in London's Trafalgar Square, with a host of crackpots invoking imaginary, often self-contradictory horrors.

Vaccines are a Satanic plot for world domination; or they're a surveillance technology, turning your body into a 5G transmitter; or they alter your DNA; or they cause infertility. Or vaccines will just flat kill you.

Closer to home, the epicenter of the deadly pandemic surge in Arkansas, where I live, appears to be Branson, Missouri, the cornball country music capital of middle America.

"Branson has a lot of country-western shows," Dr. Marc Johnson, an epidemiologist at the University of Missouri School of Medicine told the Daily Beast."No vaccines. No masks. A bunch of people indoors and air conditioning, tightly packed, listening to music, possibly singing along, i.e. a superspreading [event]."

Yee-haw! The town's mayor has proclaimed "I DO NOT believe it's my place, or the place of any politician, to endorse, promote, or compel any person to get any vaccine." He's all about freedom and liberty, the mayor.

Only what about my freedom not to get infected because some country karaoke fan thinks Covid-19 is a hoax? Government and private employers can't force people to take the shot, but they can require them as a condition of employment. You already can't get into Yankee Stadium without proof of vaccination. NFL teams will likely require them too.

If people had any sense, you wouldn't have to drag them from under the porch. But history teaches that you must.

How Media Botched The J&J Vaccine ‘Pause’

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Concerned about six rare and severe blood clot reactions out of nearly seven million Americans who have received the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, the CDC, and the FDA last week announced a sweeping pause of the immunization in order to investigate the handful of cases.

The J&J vaccine, with its single-dose regimen, currently represents less than five percent of the 100 million-plus vaccines that have been administered this year. The government has more than enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to hit the goal of 200 million shots by the end of the month, according to the White House.

Unfortunately for the J&J breaking news, crucial context was missing from most of the headlines. Instead of stressing that less than one in a million J&J shots had produced the troubling blood clot reaction, the press focused on "concerns" surrounding the "halt," and how the move "threatens to slow U.S. pandemic progress":

•"Johnson & Johnson Vaccinations Halt Across Country After Rare Clotting Cases Emerge" (New York Times)

•"CDC and FDA Recommend US Pause Use of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 Vaccine Over Blood Clot Concerns" (CNN)

•"US Recommends 'Pause' For J&J Vaccine Over Clot Reports" (Associated Press)

•"Pause of J&J Vaccine Threatens to Slow U.S. Pandemic Progress Amid Rising Caseload" (Washington Post)

•"Stocks Wobble After J&J Vaccine Halted, Inflation Uptick" (Wall Street Journal)

•"US Calls For Pause in Johnson & Johnson Vaccinations Over Blood Clot Concerns" (ABC News)

•"U.S. Recommends Pausing Use Of Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Over Blood Clot Concerns" (NPR)

It would have been such a simple fix to include "six cases" in each of those headlines, or "extremely rare" in order to give the story crucial, factual context. It's especially important to provide that full meaning during a public health crisis. Reading those headlines, people likely assumed there were hundreds if not thousands of cases that prompted the vaccine "pause."

The key omission played into the hands of conservatives who work hard to raise doubts about the virus shots.

It's true that news consumers who dug into the reports discovered how rare the vaccine-related blood clots were. But those consumers were likely in the minority. According to a a 2016 study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, nearly 60 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. "People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper," the chief researcher announced.

The J&J news also attracted lots of media attention speculating whether the halt would cause more people to not want to get vaccinated.

It was a bit ironic Tuesday to watch reporters repeatedly press White House officials at the daily media briefing about whether the J&J pause will increase vaccine hesitancy, while never addressing the role the press might play in that phenomenon. By repeatedly failing to put the J&J pause in proper context, specifically with headlines, news outlets bear some of the responsibility this week in pushing alarmist narratives that don't match the facts.

The CDC and FDA move comes at a time when the conservative media have raised doubts about the vaccines and Republican voters, and white evangelicals in particular, have expressed disdain for getting vaccinated as the country tries to achieve herd immunity in order to return to normalcy. For that to happen, anywhere 75 percent to 85 percent of the total population — including children, who are not currently getting the shots — need to be vaccinated.

Nationally, a recent Marist poll in partnership with NPR and PBS found 49 percent of Republican men said they would not take the vaccine. In Texas, 61 percent of white Republicans say they'll decline. In one county in Alabama, just seven percent of the eligible population has opted to get vaccinated. (More than 90 percent of county voters backed Trump last year.) And in North Carolina, a coastal county will stop administering vaccines at the end of the month because so few residents are scheduling appointments for the shot.

On Tuesday, the J&J announcement was treated as the biggest Covid news in weeks. The halt came at a time when there had been endless encouraging news about the vaccine rollout during Joe Biden's presidency.

Is it possible the bad-news angle appealed to the press? A recent study found that the U.S. press prefers to lean into bad Covid news:

The [pandemic] coverage by U.S. publications with a national audience has been much more negative than coverage by any other source that the researchers analyzed, including scientific journals, major international publications and regional U.S. media. "The most well-read U.S. media are outliers in terms of their negativity."

The important J&J pause story was one that cried out for full context in all aspects of the coverage, including the all-important headlines. Instead, the press bungled the assignment.

UPDATED: "Axios' Neal Rothschild notes that of the 20 most-engaged stories on social media about the Johnson & Johnson pause, just two headlines included the context that the blood clots were rare occurrences, according to data from NewsWhip."

A Moment Of Unexpected Wisdom From Alaska

This week, I had an email exchange with a person who had every reason to be disappointed in me.

Instead, he insisted his faith in me was steadfast, and I'm not the least bit embarrassed to tell you I wept in the way I've always imagined people do after Superman sweeps down for the rescue. One moment you're staring wide-eyed at the bus about to run you over, and the next you're up in the clouds bracing for a gentle landing.

The morning after our exchange, I woke up still thinking about it and realized I had stumbled upon an essential truth: The people who have been the kindest during this pandemic will be, for the rest of my days, the kindest people I have ever known.

It takes a special brand of spiritual stamina to assume the best in people when you've seen so much of the worst in recent times. I aspire to be that compassionate, and on days I come close, I have to give a lot of credit to our two rescue dogs, Franklin and Walter. There are humans who love me very much, but only our pups repeatedly stop and stare at me during the day with the devotion of a first love. It's hard to overstate the reassurance of that.

I've wanted to write an entire column about how dogs have gotten so many of us through the pandemic, but I'd hear from a lot of unhappy cat people, and I'd feel really bad about that. I've loved my share of cats over the years, I tell you. Especially Winnie and Reggie, who were part of my family's life long before my husband showed up.

Winnie was your classic kitty who had two favorites and stalked everyone else. I felt special every time we crossed paths and she didn't hiss at me. Reggie was like a dog, except more agile. He once managed to climb into the attic and then dropped two stories, landing behind a wall. This was during my single-mother days, and I will never forget our handyman coming to the rescue after I called him and described through tears how Reggie was stuck in a closet wall.

"I'll save the kitty!" he bellowed as he walked through our door wielding a mallet. And he did. By the time Reggie was free, he was covered in plaster dust and mute from yowling and ready to eat dinner.

So, in memory of Reggie, I won't devote this column to dogs. Also, you aquarium people are on your own. I understand fish can be mesmerizing, but where's the adoration?I'm needy right now, one could argue. And one has, but we won't name him.

By the way, I wonder if you've heard that former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has COVID-19 and is now encouraging all of us to wear masks.

Bet you didn't see that coming.

And don't send me another round of angry emails about how you're tired of my tricking you into reading my column about something else and then pivoting to the pandemic. This is strategy, my friends.

From Palin's statement to People magazine: "Through it all, I view wearing that cumbersome mask indoors in a crowd as not only allowing the newfound luxury of being incognito, but trust it's better than doing nothing to slow the spread."

COVID-19 can "really knock you down," she added.

As of this week, the virus has killed more than 550,000 people in the U.S. Nevertheless, a recent PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll recently reported that 41 percent of Republicans, and 49 percent of Republican men, are not planning to get vaccinated.

And here I am, insisting that I want those Republican men to live.

I am grateful to the former governor of Alaska for speaking out, and I hope her recovery is swift and full. I also hope all those Republican men who admire Sarah Palin will now find the courage to bare their mighty arms for that little needle that is saving lives.

As for the rest of you: Be Sarah, my fellow Americans.

For a little while longer, wear a mask.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of the New York Times bestselling novel, The Daughters of Erietown. To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

My Covid-19 Vaccination, Part I

There were many times, I'm sure, when my mother was disappointed in me, but one memory is seared into my brain like rice scorched into the bottom of a forgotten pot on the stove. Imagine it's your mom's favorite pot. The one she inherited from the good grandmother.

I was 16, and for reasons I can't remember, I had to get a blood test at the hospital where Mom worked as a nurse's aide. This was the age when I was diagnosed with severe asthma, so maybe this was a test to see if I was going to die. I may be exaggerating.

Anyway, this blood test was a very big deal to both of us for different reasons.

For Mom, this was a chance to introduce her oldest daughter to dozens of co-workers before I left for college and immediately forgot the names of the parents who raised me (Mom's fear).

For teenage me, it was the daylight version of a slasher film, in which someone you trust coaxes you down the hallway and into the arms of the guy wielding a pickax. You might call it a needle.

Seventeen years earlier, my mother had to give up her dream of becoming a nurse because she became pregnant with me. She never put it like that. I was a gift from God, she always said, who helped her see that she was destined to be a mother.

Still, wouldn't it be nice, she often added, if her oldest daughter decided it would be her dream come true to become a nurse? Purely coincidentally, of course.

I was all in, until the day we went for that blood test. Again, I don't remember the details, but that never mattered as long as Mom was alive, because she remembered it with the accuracy of that witness to multiple crimes who nails the police lineup every time.

Apparently, it took a lot of negotiating to get me into the one-armed chair. After the needle pierced my skin, I started to hyperventilate. "What a performance," Mom said every single time we talked about this, which was often. For decades.

After the blood test was over, I reportedly stood up and said, ever so softly, "Uh-oh." Down I went, taking Mom with me.

Here comes the part I do remember: We're in the car in our driveway, after a silent trip home. Mom cuts the engine, looks at my bandaged forehead and says, "Maybe Leslie will be the nurse."

And God said, "It is done."

My sister Les became the nurse Mom had always wanted to be.

I still hate needles. Two years ago, a friend started describing over dinner how she loves to watch her blood shoot up the line when she donates it. I ended up with my head between my knees to keep from fainting right there in the restaurant. "Just looking for an earring," I said.

"Where is this going?" you may wonder.

Come with me. I'll drive.

We're sitting in my Jeep, made by union workers in Ohio, as we turn into the county fairgrounds. We are joining dozens of other cars slowly streaming in front of us and behind us. Remember that last scene in "Field of Dreams," when that long line of cars is winding its way to the magical baseball field in the cornfield? It's like that.

Friendly people wearing masks and smiling eyes are welcoming us, nodding hello to you, my passenger, as they check my license. One nice woman directs me to veer right because, being my mother's daughter, I have already printed my medical form and filled it out before leaving the house.

The sun is shining (it really was), and something is happening inside me as I slowly pull into what looks like a 4-H barn at the county fair. It's a feeling I've never had before.

I can't wait to get that shot.

I lower my car window, shove up my sleeve and offer it to the masked man with the needle. "Thank you," I tell him as he injects my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. "Thank you, thank you."

A week from today, I will be 28 hours out from my second dose of this vaccine for COVID-19. I may experience some side effects, but I can't wait to get that next shot. I'll let you know how it goes.

If Mom were here, she'd tell you that if her oldest daughter can get this shot, so can you.

Then she'd tell you a story. You know the one.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, The Daughters of Erietown. To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com

Trump And Melania Were Vaccinated At White House But Kept It Secret

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Before leaving the White House as president, Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump chose to be inoculated from the deadly coronavirus, but opted to keep it a secret. Republicans represent the largest group of Americans who say they will not or are unsure if they will get vaccinated.

As head of a very loyal group of supporters, Trump could have gone on national television, as President-elect Joe Biden did, to receive the vaccine, which would have helped convert many opposed to the life-saving shot.

On Monday, the New York Times' Maggie Haberman reported the news that Trump was vaccinated, citing an advisor to the former president.

Some may have noticed that during his Sunday speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Trump in a rare move gave lip service to getting the vaccine, although couching it in an attack against President Biden. He told supporters to "go get your shot."

"Remember, we took care of a lot of people, including, I guess on December 21st, we took care of Joe Biden, because he got his shot," Trump told the CPAC crowd in Orlando at his speech that was widely panned. "He got his vaccine. He forgot. It shows you how unpainful that vaccine shot is. So everybody go get your shot. He forgot. So it wasn't very traumatic, obviously. But he got his shot. And it's good that he got his shot."

Axios reported last week that 41 percent of Republicans say they will not get the coronavirus vaccine. That number jumps to 56 percent when including Republicans who say they are unsure. Just one-third of Republicans (33 percent) say they will get vaccinated. Compare that with 70 percent of Democrats who say they will get vaccinated.

"White Americans are now less likely than Black and Latino Americans to say they plan to get the vaccine," Axios notes.