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More Fauci: We could use some help from my former boss to convince Republicans to get vaccinated

Brittany Jordan

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He’s concerned about these new polling numbers and, well, he should be.

The conventional wisdom is that black Americans are the group most likely to resist the vaccine because historically they have reason not to trust public-health authorities, but that’s not close to accurate if you believe the NPR data above. Just 25 percent of blacks say they won’t get the shot, a share equal to the number who’ve *already* gotten it. Another 48 percent say they’ll get it once they’re eligible. Compare that to the numbers among Republican men, where the percentage of refuseniks is nearly twice as high. Men who identify as GOP are split almost evenly on whether they’ll get the shot or not, making them the most anti-vax group of those tested.

Brian Kemp’s seeing it firsthand in Georgia, apparently:

Fauci wants an assist from Trump in softening them up. But would that really help? Watch, then read on.

Trump has endorsed the vaccine at least twice recently, as I pointed out last week. He hasn’t cut any ads for it but he urged everyone to get their shots during his speech at CPAC and he put out a statement a few days ago reminding readers that it was his administration that spearheaded the vaccine program. I’m sure it’d help at the margins if he were more vocal about getting immunized but I’m skeptical that we’d see a sea change in Republican opinion. It’d be the mask debate all over again: Trump eventually came around on that too, allowing himself to be photographed wearing a covering at different times, and who knows if it did any good at all in convincing hardcore mask skeptics to rethink.

As it happens, Frank Luntz recently held a focus group with Republicans who are skeptical of the vaccine to find out what their objections are and what sort of appeals might persuade them to change their minds. Results: Pitches from politicians, including Trump, either did little to convince them or actively alienated them. As did appeals from, er, Anthony Fauci.

Many other proposed or actual messengers fell flat: The group panned a public service announcement released last week, for instance, featuring former presidents Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. One attendee called the ad “propaganda,” and another said the former presidents were “bad actors.”

“It actually kind of annoys me,” said a voter named Debbie from Georgia.

The group also condemned Anthony S. Fauci — the government infectious-disease specialist relentlessly attacked by Trump and conservative media for the past year — as a “liar,” “flip-flopper” and “opportunistic.”

Fauci, whom multiple participants also blamed for Trump’s missteps on the virus, told “Fox News Sunday” that Trump should make his own public service announcement. But the focus group of Trump voters didn’t warm to that idea, with attendees universally saying that their spouse or doctor would be more influential on their decision than hearing from the former president.

If they’re not listening to Fauci and they’re not interested in Trump, whom are they listening to? Per WaPo, former CDC chief Tom Frieden (who joined Luntz on the focus group) made headway by highlighting five facts about the virus, emphasizing how many subjects had participated in safety trials and how many doctors had opted to be vaccinated in December. One participant said he was especially grabbed by Frieden stressing that the long-term risks from COVID are worse than the risks from the vaccine — not a point you might think would need emphasizing about a disease that’s killed half a million people but one that should be made, it turns out. Another subject was reassured to learn that the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna didn’t come out of the blue but were the product of many years of R&D, including study of the original SARS virus.

Point being, as far as Luntz can tell, there’s no meaningful “ideological” component in Republicans’ resistance. It may be that they’ve simply ingested bad facts about the virus in their normal partisan media diet and setting them straight brings them around. In fact, the one politician involved in the focus group who did seem to make some headway was Chris Christie, not because he was unusually persuasive but because he spoke from the experience of having had a bad bout with COVID himself. He gave them firsthand information on what an infection is like.

So maybe the solution to the problem of anti-vax Republicans is … less Fauci on television and more of other experts? If his credibility on the right is shot then maybe the White House should deputize someone else as lead mouthpiece in the pro-vaccination effort. Frieden led Barack Obama’s CDC so he’d be an obvious candidate. Scott Gottlieb would be another good one given his no-nonsense demeanor and Trump pedigree. Here’s Frieden making the case to Luntz’s panel.



Brittany Jordan is an award-winning journalist who reports on breaking news in the U.S. and globally for the Federal Inquirer. Prior to her position at the Federal Inquirer, she was a general assignment features reporter for Newsweek, where she wrote about technology, politics, government news and important global events around the world. Her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Toronto Star, Frederick News-Post, West Hawaii Today, the Miami Herald, and more. Brittany enjoys food, travel, photography, and hoarding notebooks and journals. Her goal is to do more longform features journalism, narrative writing and documentary work, and to one day write a successful novel and screenplay.

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