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Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told a crowd in Kentucky Thursday that he was “perplexed” by vaccine hesitancy within the conservative movement. To pretty much everyone else, it’s not that perplexing.
McConnell appeared at the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to talk about infrastructure and to implore Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to put an early end to the $300-per-week federal unemployment lifeline, which doesn’t expire until September. But McConnell also expressed confusion about why Republicans continue to drag down the rest of the country’s efforts to overcome the pandemic.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll last weekend found that 93 percent of Democrats have been vaccinated or plan to be, as opposed to just 49 percent Republicans. Less than half of the country is fully vaccinated, and in Kentucky it’s even lower at just 44 percent of residents fully vaccinated. As of May, months after the vaccine first became available to them, fewer than half of all House Republicans had been vaccinated as opposed to every Democratic member of the House.
“To use a sports analogy, we're in the red zone, the last 20 yards before the end zone, but we're not in the end zone yet because there is resistance for various reasons that seem to have gotten caught up in politics,” McConnell told attendees.
That McConnell is “perplexed,” is, well, perplexing. Republican politicians have spent the months since President Joe Biden’s inauguration focusing more on the nonexistent problem of “vaccine passports” than on vaccine outreach, and that’s almost the best-case scenario, as some on the far right are just outright anti-vaxxers.
Conservative politicians and media personalities have expressed anger about everything from the public relations campaign to encourage vaccinations to even governments and businesses offering incentives to get vaccinated.
They exploded even further this week when Biden announced an effort to go “literally door to door” to offer people vaccines. Rep. Lauren Boebert, for example, called the people carrying out this initiative “Needle Nazis.”
The race to reach herd immunity is even more urgent given the rise of the Delta variant, which first appeared during India’s crushing wave earlier this spring and is now the dominant strain in the U.S.
Experts believe that the variant, which is more transmissible and now makes up a clear majority of U.S. COVID-19 cases, is driving an upswing in COVID-19 cases, particularly in states that have low vaccination rates. While Kentucky is far from its winter peak of cases, McConnell’s home state has seen a 33 percent increase in COVID cases in the past few weeks, according to the New York Times.
Despite the country seeing a spike in cases of nearly 40 percent over the past two weeks, however, hospitalizations have risen by only 1 percent, and the White House and public health agencies and groups in several states have reported that nearly everyone who’s been hospitalized or died from COVID-19 in recent months has been unvaccinated.
Still, it’s not surprising to see vaccine rejection among Republicans despite the overwhelming evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective. Just weeks after being forced to apologize for comparing coronavirus restrictions to the Holocaust, Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted Tuesday calling those who would carry out the door-to-door vaccination drive Biden’s “medical brownshirts,” another reference to the Nazis.
And on Thursday, Greene urged a crowd in Illinois with hundreds of seniors—some of the people most vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19—to reject the vaccine while promoting a bill she filed in April called the “We Will Not Comply Act.”
“It gives you permission to tell Biden’s little posse that’s gonna show up at your door, you know, that intimidate you—they probably work for antifa by night, and then they come and intimidate you to take the vaccine by day—well, you get to tell them to get the hell off of your lawn,” Greene said.