U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has dabbled in conspiracy theories about the January 6 Capitol riot, and now he’s turning his tinfoil hat toward the effort to get people vaccinated in order to end the global pandemic before deadly and fast-evolving variants shut it all down again.
On Thursday, the Wisconsin Republican criticized the “big push to make sure everyone gets a vaccine” and said he won’t get the vaccine (contrary to CDC recommendations) because he had COVID-19 in the fall. And on Friday, Johnson doubled down, asking in an interview with a right-wing YouTube show: “Why would anybody push a vaccine that is being administered under an emergency use authorization where you don’t have the long-term studies. Why would anybody push that on children?”
Johnson made his comments Thursday in an interview with Wisconsin conservative radio host Vicki McKenna. “For the very young, I see no reason to be pushing vaccines on people,” Johnson told McKenna, according to the AP.
“The science tells us the vaccines are 95 percent effective, so if you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?” Johnson said. “What is it to you? You’ve got a vaccine and science is telling you it’s very, very effective. So why is this big push to make sure everybody gets a vaccine?”
“And it’s to the point where you’re going to shame people, you’re going to force them to carry a card to prove that they’ve been vaccinated so they can still stay in society,” he added. “I’m getting highly suspicious of what’s happening here.”
Johnson did not explain what exactly made him “highly suspicious,” according to the AP.
On Friday, Johnson continued his vaccine-skeptic world tour with an appearance on an Australia-based YouTube show called Asia Pacific Today, whose host introduced Johnson as “a figure of reason amidst the hysteria of the media, public health advocates, and political operatives.”
"I was a big supporter of Operation Warp Speed," Johnson said. “"But again...I also am talking to doctors who are really questioning whether a drug that has not been fully approved, that hasn’t gone through the years of trials so that we can take a look at what is the potential long-term effect, that we’re vaccinating everybody as opposed to limiting it to really the most vulnerable.”
“Again, I’m not a doctor. I’m not qualified to make those decisions, but I think those are legitimate questions,” Johnson added.
Johnson also bizarrely came out as preferring actually getting COVID-19, which has killed more than 500,000 people in the United States, over getting the vaccine, which has dramatically reduced COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, and has largely had limited adverse effects.
“Again I’m not a doctor, I have to keep throwing that qualifier, but what I understand of disease in general, if you’ve had the disease, your body has the antibodies,” Johnson said. “I mean, having the disease, I’ve always felt was better than a vaccine because you’ve actually had the disease. You’ve developed the antibodies, you ought to have some pretty good immunity. Why would you be pushing people that have already had the disease, why would you push the vaccine on them?”
“Again, I don’t have the answers, nor do the health agencies, so why are we pushing the vaccine on everybody when so many people’s risk is extremely low?” he added. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
The “big push” for vaccines is in order to ensure a safe transition back to something resembling pre-COVID normalcy. It’s been estimated that anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the country would need to develop COVID antibodies, either via the vaccine or having had COVID-19 recently, in order for the country to reach herd immunity, according to the Times.
So far, 41 percent of the country has received at least one dose of the vaccine and 27 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times, and the U.S. met the Biden administration’s goal of 200 million doses in President Joe Biden’s first 100 days more than a week early.
But although vaccine eligibility is now open to everyone 16 and older in the United States, the country has seen an alarming drop in demand for the vaccine in recent days, with many states and counties around the country beginning to reject vaccine shipments or ask for smaller allotments, the AP reported. Demographically, men and conservatives have been substantially less likely to get the vaccine than women and more liberal voters.
Some of the most high-profile conservatives in the country, including former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have encouraged skeptical Republicans to get inoculated. On Friday, Trump called the vaccine “one of the great achievements, a true miracle” in an interview with the New York Post.
Though Johnson is up for re-election in 2022, he hasn’t yet said whether he’ll run for a third term. Given the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the Senate and the fact that Wisconsin went for Trump in 2016 and narrowly for Biden last year, the state will be key to determining Senate control in 2023.
Johnson’s potential Democratic opponents seized on his comments.
“Oh so now Ron Johnson is anti everyone getting vaccines,” Wisconsin state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who has already announced her run for Senate, said in a Friday tweet. “I feel like there’s a word for that…”