McConnell declined to comment on GOP vaccine skeptics. (Washington Post video)
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
Voices are rising against misinformation and disinformation about coronavirus vaccines, even in the Republican Party, in which skepticism, hesitancy and even resistance to the vaccines is strongest.
The loudest alarms are coming from the administration of President Biden, who said Friday that social-media companies “are killing people” by not acting more forcefully against false information about vaccines.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued the first-ever formal health advisory against misinformation last week, warning that it poses an “imminent and insidious threat.”
Murthy said on CNN Sunday that social-media companies “have played a major role” in that, and while they have taken “some positive steps . . . it’s not enough. We are still seeing a proliferation of misinformation online, and we know that health misinformation harms people’s health; it costs them their lives.”
Earlier on CNN
, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
and Biden’s top medical adviser, said “If we had the kind of false information decades ago, I would be certain that we would still have polio in this country.”
The top public-health officials spoke after three weeks in which the number of new cases in the U.S. have tripled. In Kentucky, in the seven days ending Friday, July 16, there were 88% more new cases than the previous seven.
Murthy said 99.5% of Covid-19 deaths are of unvaccinated people, so vaccination “is our fastest, most effective way out of this pandemic.” Also, the unvaccinated make up 97% of Covid-19 hospitalizations.
But the assertions of public-health experts are being challenged by political figures in a way rarely if ever seen before in this country.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Bowling Green, an eye doctor, has tangled repeatedly with Fauci at Senate hearings and suggested in a recent newsletter that coronavirus vaccination isn’t necessary: “When you combine both natural immunity and vaccine immunity it’s estimated that 80-85% of U.S. adults have Covid-19 immunity. As a result, we’ve likely already reached herd immunity, making the spread of this disease from one person to another unlikely.”
That statement is unproven, because the extent and strength of natural immunity to the virus is unknown, especially when the much more contagious Delta variant is becoming dominant. Health experts advise people who have had the virus, like Paul, to get vaccinated 90 days after the end of symptoms. He has said he won’t get vaccinated because of his natural immunity.
The questions about immunity aside, Paul’s assertion that spread of the disease is unlikely is disproven by the big rise in cases.
Kentucky’s other senator, Mitch McConnell, has regularly advocated vaccination and did so again Tuesday when asked about senators and conservative commentators who have raised questions about the vaccines.
, “I don’t know how many times you all have heard me say this, but I’m a huge fan of vaccinations,” noting that he is a polio victim, and reiterated that he is “perplexed by the difficulty we have in finishing the job . . . We need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important. . . . I don’t know how many times we have to keep saying it, but for myself, I intend to keep saying it over and over again.”
When a reporter said the resistance to vaccination “isn’t all that perplexing” because so many Republicans are “casting doubt” and “spotlighting rare side effects” of vaccines, as Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson did, and asked McConnell about his conversations with Johnson and others on the subject, McConnell said, “I’ve already answered the question about how I feel about this. I can only speak for myself.”
Earlier, McConnell called on Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the current national hotspot. Blunt said the nation is “at a critical moment” because “We don’t want to let this drag on here or anywhere else in the world to where a variant is developed that these vaccines aren’t dealing with, and have to start back right where we are again.” He added, “The whole idea of community immunity only comes when enough people step up and do what they need to do for themselves and the community they live in.”
Two days later, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah was asked a similar question as McConnell, and said those who discouraging immunization are “killing people,” which Biden said the next day.
“We have these, these talking heads who have gotten the vaccine and are telling other people not to get the vaccine,” Cox said. “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 and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said Republicans should point out that the vaccines were developed under a Republican administration. “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.
“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,” wrote Hannah Knowles of The Washington Post. “A host at the conservative network Newsmax this week 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.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said on CBS‘s “Face the Nation” that the two biggest myths are that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines change DNA, which they do not, and the that vaccines can limit fertility, which is “discouraging a lot of young women.” He said a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention registry of pregnant, vaccinated women has shown “very encouraging” results that run contrary to that belief.
Vaccination is increasingly a partisan matter, polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows. Through April 22, counties that voted for Biden had a 22.8% vaccination rate, close to the 20.6% in counties that voted for Trump. But by July 6, the numbers were 44.7% in Biden counties and 35% in Trump counties.
Kentucky’s coronavirus vaccination rate was once about the same as the nation’s, but it has declined so much that the Post estimates that 70% of the state’s population won’t be fully vaccinated until early December.
Meanwhile, the virus spreads and mutates, and its impact and potential aren’t really known because testing has declined so much, Gottlieb said on CBS.
“This Delta wave could be far more advanced that what we’re detecting right now,” Gottlieb said, adding that “Quality of masks is going to make a difference with a variant that spreads as quickly as Delta does.” He said people should use N95 masks, which are now much more available than several months ago.
CBS reported that coronavirus cases are getting younger, with more children in intensive care. Almost all Covid-19 patients at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
in Nashville are unvaccinated people from rural counties
, and Tennessee recently ended all vaccine outreach for children and fired the director of its vaccine program after complaints from Republican legislators.
Republicans also run Kentucky’s legislature, but the its only recent vaccine action is a law allowing people to opt out of any vaccine made mandatory in a state of emergency, something Gov. Andy Beshear has said he would not do.
The chairs of the health committees in the Kentucky House and Senate are a retired nurse, Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, and a practicing physician, Sen. Ralph Alavardo of Winchester. Both have promoted vaccination.