The Republican governor of Utah on Thursday decried “propaganda” spread against coronavirus vaccines, warning that those discouraging immunization are “killing people.”
“We have these - these talking heads who have gotten the vaccine and are telling other people not to get the vaccine,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in response to a reporter’s question about anti-vaccine rhetoric coming in large part from the political right. “That kind of stuff is just, it’s ridiculous. It’s dangerous, it’s damaging, and it’s killing people. I mean, it’s literally killing their supporters. And that makes no sense to me.”
Cox’s sharp words at a news conference came as some lawmakers and other prominent Republicans fan doubts about the coronavirus vaccines or speak about them with outright hostility, framing efforts to promote the shots as unwelcome incursions from big government.
Members of Congress have derided “door-to-door” outreach; a host at the conservative network Newsmax recently declared vaccines “against nature”; and audience members at a conservative conference cheered last weekend when a speaker said the United States missed its immunization goals. Those in counties won by President Joe Biden are more likely to be fully vaccinated than those in counties won by former president Donald Trump, the Kaiser Family Foundation found this month.
Most covid-19 deaths now occur among the unvaccinated, something Cox underscored as true for Utah. Yet recent polling shows that 29% of Americans say they are unlikely to get their shots, with most of those people saying they definitely will not. That’s a slight uptick from three months earlier when 24% said they were unlikely to get vaccinated.
Asked about anti-vaccine messages Thursday, Cox said they are “harmful” and that “it does concern me deeply.” He said he sees the coronavirus vaccines as a key accomplishment of the Trump administration and believes the herculean effort to develop them in less than a year will go down as “one of the greatest achievements of medicine in human history.”
Trump has taken credit for that accomplishment and got vaccinated, although not in public like other leaders such as Biden and former vice president Mike Pence, a Republican.
“I don’t think we can take credit for getting the vaccine and then tell people that there’s something wrong with the vaccine,” Cox said Thursday.
He used the news conference to plead with residents - again - to get their shots. “We know why the cases are going up. We know why hospitalizations are going up. And it’s just because we need more people to get vaccinated.”
Cox is not the only Republican official to express frustration over vaccine messaging from the right. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, this week said that “politicizing vaccinations is moronic” and asked aloud why supporters of Trump are resistant.
“President Trump and his supporters take credit for developing the vaccine,” he said, according to the Deseret News. “Why the heck won’t they take advantage of the vaccine they received plaudits for having developed?”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters this week that he is a “huge fan of vaccinations” and “perplexed by the difficulty we have in finishing the job” of immunizing the country. “We need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important.” he said.
But when asked about GOP colleagues such as Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who have fueled doubts about the vaccines, McConnell declined to criticize and said he could only speak for himself.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy highlighted the threat of misinformation on covid-19 at a White House news briefing this week, where he said he has lost 10 family members to the disease. He accused tech companies of allowing falsehoods to “poison our information environment with little accountability to their users.”
With Biden joining Murthy’s criticisms Friday, Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever said that the tech giant is “helping save lives” and that “more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet.”
Conservative media’s framing of the vaccines came into this spotlight this week after Newsmax prime-time host Rob Schmitt - a former Fox News co-host - said on air that he was neither “anti-vaxxer” nor “pro-vaxxer.”
“I feel like a vaccination in a weird way is just generally kind of going against nature,” he said. Newsmax later told The Washington Post that the network “strongly supports President Biden’s efforts to widely distribute the covid vaccine.”
The popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson has called himself “pro-vaccine” but also suggested that “maybe it doesn’t work and they’re simply not telling you that.”
Utah has seen its coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations drop significantly with vaccination but tick up in recent weeks, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. A state website seeks to dispel misinformation about the shots: “COVID-19 vaccines don’t change your DNA.” “COVID-19 vaccines don’t contain microchips or tracking devices.” “COVID-19 vaccines have not been linked to infertility or miscarriage.”
With at least one dose for 66.5% of adults, Utah is more than 10 percentage points ahead of the country as a whole. Among American adults, 48.4 are fully vaccinated, according to Post tracking. Biden originally set a goal of giving at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine to 70% of adults by July 4.