The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Under Trump, Republicans touted the coronavirus vaccines. Now, under Biden, they’re questioning them.

As President Biden urges Americans to get vaccinated, Republicans who previously touted the vaccines have started questioning their efficacy. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Days after initial data from two coronavirus vaccines showed broad effectiveness at preventing illness, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went on Fox Business Network to laud them.

“I’ve been a big proponent of releasing it early,” Paul said Nov. 19. “I think that we’ve had enough safety and effectiveness data.”

About two weeks later, Paul told Fox: “All I would say to government officials is let’s get the vaccine out as soon as we can.”

Since then, Paul has become one of several congressional Republicans employing conjecture and misinformation to question the efficacy of the vaccines and the Biden administration’s efforts to vaccinate more Americans. You can watch examples of these juxtapositions in the video above.

While it is not inherently contradictory to praise the vaccines while also asking questions about them, most of these Republican questions are premised on misinformation. It marks a significant shift after those same Republicans touted the vaccines during the Trump administration, and it comes as infections and deaths have grown among the unvaccinated and dropped among the vaccinated.

In December, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) praised the Trump administration’s “brilliant” Operation Warp Speed for helping expedite the development of coronavirus vaccines. Since then, Johnson has inflated the number of adverse reactions and deaths linked to the vaccines.

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.), a former White House physician, told Fox News in November that he would get vaccinated to contribute to herd immunity. By July, Jackson was warning Fox viewers that “this is still an experimental vaccine being used under an emergency use authorization.”

In March, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) praised former president Donald Trump for saving lives with the coronavirus vaccines. By July, Greene was telling Americans not to get vaccinated.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) produced a video trumpeting Trump’s vaccine effort in December, only to question the long-term effects of the vaccines five months later on Fox.

Less than two months after thanking Trump for the vaccines, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) in July said a Biden effort to vaccinate more Americans could lead to government confiscation of guns and Bibles.

The false and misleading claims about the vaccines from these Republicans are directly refuted by data showing the vaccines approved for use in the United States are overwhelmingly safe and effective. But those false and misleading claims track with a Republican voter base that is skeptical of getting vaccinated, in part because of said false and misleading claims.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked whether he had a message to Republicans and conservative commentators who were casting doubts on the coronavirus vaccines.

“I’m perplexed by the difficulty we have in finishing the job,” McConnell said. “If you’re a football fan, we’re in the red zone, but we’re not in the end zone yet, and we need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important.”

Moments later a reporter pushed back, noting that senators in his own party were questioning the vaccines.

“I’ve already answered the question about how I feel about this,” McConnell replied. “I can only speak for myself, and I just did a few minutes ago.”