(Headline USA) Republican politicians were under increasing pressure to persuade COVID-19 vaccine skeptics to roll up their sleeves and take the shots as the Biden administration faces a wall of resistance with only half the country fully vaccinated.
Amid an aggressive public-relations push, there were signs that messaging was changing this week, as even some conservative leaders advocated for the shots.
On Fox News, host Sean Hannity implored his viewers to “please take COVID seriously,” saying, “Enough people have died.”
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley on Twitter encouraged “ALL eligible Iowans/Americans to get vaccinated.”
“The delta variant scares me,” he wrote.
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Republican whip, distributed pictures of himself receiving his first dose of the vaccine last weekend after months of holding out.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been selling campaign merchandise mocking masks and medical experts, this week pointed to data showing the vast majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.
“These vaccines are saving lives,” he said.
And in Alabama, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey voiced exasperation as she pleaded with residents to protect themselves.
“Folks are supposed to have common sense,” she told reporters. “It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down. … I’ve done all I know how to do. I can encourage you to do something, but I can’t make you take care of yourself.”
Nonetheless, Ivey said she would not force students to wear masks when school resumes and would leave that decision up to local school districts.
The pleas come as COVID-19 cases have nearly tripled in the U.S. over the last two weeks, driven by the arrival of the new delta variant.
The outbreak is surging in pockets of the country where vaccination rates are low—and where the Biden administration has been secretly shipping illegal immigrants from the southern border, some of whom come from countries with even more abysmal vaccination rates.
While there is no indication that mortality rates have increased substantially alongside the case reports, fearmongers continue to hype the “mutant” strain, claiming it is at least twice as contagious as the original version.
“I think they’ve finally realized that if their people aren’t vaccinated, they’re going to get sick, and if their people aren’t vaccinated, they’re going to get blamed for COVID outbreaks in the future,” said RINO pollster Frank Luntz, who has been working with the Biden administration and public health officials to craft effective messaging to bring the vaccine hesitant off the fence.
But Luntz, who conducted another focus group Wednesday evening with vaccine holdouts, said there has been a discernible shift in recent weeks as skepticism has calcified into hardened refusal.
“Once you are opposed, it is very hard to change that position. And that’s what’s happening right now,” he said.
In his focus groups, Luntz said that many skeptics have struggled to assess the veracity of the things they read and hear.
“There is so much misinformation out there, and they can’t tell the difference between what is accurate and what is fake,” he said. “So it makes it virtually impossible to communicate when they don’t know what to believe.”
Only 51% of Republicans said they had received at least one dose. And among unvaccinated Republicans, just 12% said they were planning to get the shot, while 32% said they probably wouldn’t, and 56% said they definitely won’t.
In Washington, the GOP-led Doctors Caucus gathered at the Capitol Thursday for an event to combat vaccine hesitancy, but the news conference highlighted Republicans’ conflicting views on the virus.
The group instead spent most of its time railing against China, and criticizing Democrats—including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Biden administration—for not doing more to get to the bottom of the lab leak theory.
“The question is, Why are Democrats stonewalling our efforts to uncover the origins of the COVID virus?” said New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 Republican in the House.
While some Republicans may be using strong words to promote the vaccine, few are proposing new measures to urge vaccination, such as incentives, public information campaigns or more aggressive outreach.
In New Hampshire, where shots have slowed to about 1,000 per week, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said there are no immediate plans to launch new initiatives.
“Right now, it’s folks’ individual responsibility. If someone hasn’t been vaccinated at this point, they’ve made that conscious decision not to,” he said Thursday.
“The government’s job is to provide that open door. If you want the vaccine, here it is, nice and easy,” he continued. “If you need more information, here it is. So you have every tool in the toolbox available to you and your family to make that decision.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press