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When Joe Biden assumed the presidency, a switch flipped among Democrats. Former President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan Operation Warp Speed was viewed with a skeptical lens, but those on the left felt more comfortable trusting a government run by one of their own. Now liberals ridicule Republicans for displaying the same dynamic.
Consider Kamala Harris, who said after being elected vice president that everyone “should get this vaccine.” But in September 2020, Harris pushed back in a CNN interview, explicitly linking her skepticism of the vaccine to her distrust of Trump.
“I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump,” she said to a question about accepting a COVID vaccine, “and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about. I will not take his [Trump’s] word for it.”
Then, at an October debate with then-Vice President Mike Pence, Harris said, “If Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it,” to which Pence responded later, “Your continuous undermining of confidence in a vaccine is just, it’s just unacceptable.”
Biden echoed this sentiment in fall 2020 as well, stating, “I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump. And at this moment the American people can’t, either.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose polling numbers have deteriorated after his gross mishandling of the pandemic, also joined the Democrat hesitancy chorus. But with a Democrat in the White House, his state implemented vaccine passports.
“Frankly, I’m not going to trust the federal government’s opinion and I wouldn’t recommend to New Yorkers based on the federal government’s opinion,” he said in September 2020. In October, he said, “I don’t believe the American people are that confident. I think it’s going to be a very skeptical American public about taking the vaccine, and they should be.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in September 2020, “Unless there is confidence that the vaccine has gone through the clinical trials, and then is approved by the independent scientific advisory committee, as established to do just this, there will be doubts that people will have.”
Pelosi was not wrong about people maintaining certain doubts about an experimental vaccine — even though it is clear her hatred for Trump girded her position. But she certainly changed her tune along with the change in White House occupancy. Pelosi said in May 2021 that lawmakers are a “danger” who “selfishly” did not get vaccinated. She has kept the House floor mask mandate even for those who have not gotten vaccinated. Last month, three GOP congressmen were fined $500 each for not wearing one.
This politicization of trust in vaccination was also reflected in public polling. An October 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation survey asked participants, “How worried are you, if at all, that the FDA will rush to approve a coronavirus vaccine without making sure that it is safe and effective, due to political pressure from President Trump and the White House?”
Fifty-three percent of Democrats indicated they are “very worried,” 33 percent were “somewhat worried,” and only 8 percent were “not too worried.” Among Independents, 34 percent were “very worried.”
Republicans? Only 10 percent of respondents indicated they were “very worried,” and 41 percent said they were “not worried at all.” A total of 71 percent were either “not too worried” or the former.
Fast-forward to today. The tables have turned, and Democrats have achieved leadership in all branches of government. The White House has tossed around the idea of a “door-to-door” vaccination effort after not meeting its July 4 benchmark.
Republicans, on the other hand, reflected higher vaccine hesitancy in tandem with the White House turnover, according to polling. Kaiser Family Foundation found in a follow-up last month that 49 percent of unvaccinated respondents were Republicans, compared to 29 percent of Democrats. Those who said they would “definitely not” get vaccinated were 67 percent Republicans.
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York attributes this shift to political power. He speculates that if Trump had won a second term, Democrats would have instead been the vaccine-concerned party. “It was rushed! they might say. Scientists were pressured!” York described.
Yet left-leaning outlets now treat conservatives as conspiracy theorists for doing the same thing top Democrats did just a few months ago. The Washington Post ran a headline last week that declared, “Right-wing anti-vaccine hysteria is increasing. We’ll all pay the price.”
“The GOP’s Paranoid Streak From John Birchers to Anti-Vaxxers,” The Daily Beast ran with last week as well. “Six decades later, paranoid conspiracy theories are sexy again,” the piece states.
Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times wrote in a March article titled “Far-Right Extremists Move From ‘Stop the Steal’ to Stop the Vaccine” that “If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Biden was inaugurated, its supporters among extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government.”
Once Biden was declared victor, Democrats adjusted their stance based on the power dynamic. It is not only morally bankrupt but unfair to Americans on both sides who were hesitant all along.