The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Sorry, Tucker Carlson. Polling suggests your anti-vax campaign is failing.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

It was no easy task for Fox News host Tucker Carlson to outdo himself, but he did this week, when he unleashed the latest of many rants meant to discourage people from getting vaccinated for covid-19 (which he always frames as “just asking questions”). In his latest, Carlson tried to convince his viewers that thousands of people are dying because of the vaccine.

But at least some evidence shows that his efforts are failing. While we have a good way to go in convincing those yet unwilling to get vaccinated, their numbers are shrinking — even among Republicans, some of the most recalcitrant resisters.

Carlson, the top-rated host on cable news with about 3 million viewers a night, has found his new calling in raising doubts about the vaccines. His latest technique is to frighten his audience by telling them that thousands of people have died after taking the vaccine. Terrifying! He went on:

Some people say, “Well, it’s just a coincidence if someone gets a shot and then dies, possibly from other causes.” No one really knows, is the truth. We spoke to one physician today who actively treats covid patients. He described what we are seeing now as the single deadliest mass vaccination event in modern history. Whatever is causing it, it is happening as we speak.

It’s true that thousands of people have died after taking the vaccine. Of course they have.

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Since nearly 150 million Americans have received at least one dose and around 8,000 Americans die every day of various causes, if thousands of people hadn’t died after taking the vaccine, it would be just about the most stunning medical news in human history.

It would mean the vaccines prevent people from dying not just of covid, but also from heart disease, cancer, strokes, Alzheimer’s, food poisoning, car accidents, drowning, gun violence and getting sucked into combines. That would be some vaccine.

It does make one curious about whether Carlson himself has been vaccinated. Is this just a line he feeds the rubes, or is he willing to put himself and his loved ones at risk? As far as I can tell, he hasn’t said.

Given Carlson’s relentless anti-vaccine propaganda — and similar statements coming from many others on the right — it is perhaps unsurprising that one of the groups expressing the greatest reluctance to take the vaccine is Republicans.

But as new polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows, their resistance is weakening:

Eight in ten Democrats say they’ve already gotten at least one dose of the vaccine or will get it as soon as possible, virtually unchanged from the share who said so last month (79%). Increasing enthusiasm among independents may also be slowing down, with six in ten (59%) now saying they’ve gotten at least one dose or will do so as soon as they can, similar to the 57% who said so in March.
While the growth in vaccine enthusiasm appears to have slowed among independents and Democrats, it has continued to increase among Republicans, with a majority (55%) now saying they have either received at least one dose of the vaccine or intend to do so as soon as possible. One in five Republicans (20%) say they will “definitely not” get vaccinated, down from 29% last month but still substantially larger than the share among independents (13% and Democrats (4%).

That’s still far too high, of course, and it threatens our ability to reach herd immunity. But things are moving in the right direction. And while there are many reasons a person might be hesitant to get the vaccine (some more reasonable than others), it offers some reason to hope that this resistance can be at least partially overcome.

Unfortunately, even outside the realm of the real crazies saying that the vaccine includes a microchip that will allow Bill Gates to track your movements (as though Google and Apple aren’t already tracking them!), there are many people who still see it in their interest to politicize vaccines.

For instance, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) recently issued an order barring private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. While DeSantis says people should get vaccinated, he was essentially joining another battle in the larger war over covid. It’s especially problematic because while government can’t force people to be vaccinated, if there were benefits available only to those who had been — eating in your favorite restaurant, going to a ballgame — it would provide a powerful incentive for more people to roll up their sleeves. That’s what will save lives and help us get back to normal as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, Republicans across the country are fighting against anything that resembles “vaccine passports.” Wisconsin Republicans passed bills barring private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas signed a law preventing the state and local governments from requiring vaccination to access services or get a job. Montana Republicans passed a law banning employers — even hospitals — from requiring employees to be vaccinated.

And in Michigan, GOP lawmakers are inviting conspiracy theorists to testify and considering at least one bill that could outlaw even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention card you get at your vaccination.

In other words, plenty of conservatives out there — some cynical, some nutty — want to keep vaccines as politicized as possible. But the trends at least suggest that the more people get vaccinated and the closer we get to normalcy, the more marginalized they may become.

In a few weeks, Carlson himself may decide that some other topic is more fruitful for fearmongering and forget all about his anti-vaccine campaign. Let’s hope so.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: Don’t be fooled. GOP ‘moderates’ will back McConnell’s scheme to stop Biden.

Erik Wemple: Do Tucker Carlson’s viewers take him at his word?

Gary Abernathy: How to get more Republicans to embrace the coronavirus vaccines

David Von Drehle: Dollars and doughnuts alone won’t conquer vaccine hesitancy

The Post’s View: The U.S. has vaccinated half of adults. The problem is the second half.