Now nearly four months out of office, Donald Trump still maintains a great amount of influence over his supporters.
If only he would use that power to help them protect themselves from COVID-19, and in the process help this country approach herd immunity and fully suppress the deadly virus.
Some believe that herd immunity will never be achieved, that it will take too long to reach the critical point of vaccination coverage before vaccine-resistant variants develop.
Maybe so, but compounding that troubling prospect is the resistance to vaccination among many Americans, and especially among the Republican former president’s supporters. USA Today recently reported the results of an exhaustive analysis of vaccination rates in the South. It found that vaccination rates are the lowest in those parts of the region where Trump’s support was the highest. In Mississippi and the neighboring states of Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee, vaccination rates are 36% below the national average in the roughly 200 counties where Trump beat Democrat Joe Biden by 25 percentage points or more. The New York Times found a similar correlation between political allegiance and vaccine hesitancy in an earlier nationwide analysis.
White conservatives — the base of Trump’s support — have been the group most leery of being inoculated. That’s because they distrust the government in general, don’t like to feel coerced and have received mixed signals from Trump himself, who during his presidency and afterward has vacillated from recommending vaccination to downplaying it. Although he has bragged about the record pace in which the highly effective vaccines were developed, he has not gone out of his way to dispel his supporters’ misgivings about getting the shots. It was revealing that during his final days in office, Trump and first lady Melania Trump were vaccinated privately at the White House rather than following the lead of Biden, several former presidents and members of Trump’s own administration in getting their COVID-19 shots in a highly visible public way.
Trump does not seem to recognize that he has a moral obligation to promote vaccination, not only to save the lives of those who voted for him but to keep the entire nation protected from potentially another deadly surge.
Dr. James Hildreth, a virus expert from Nashville who served on a vaccine advisory committee under Trump and is now helping a COVID-19 task force for Biden, expressed his disappointment to USA Today in Trump’s unwillingness to forcefully help the cause.
“There is so much to be undone,” Hildreth said of the misinformation and unfounded fears about the vaccines among conservatives. “And there is no getting around the fact that the person most capable of convincing these individuals to accept the vaccine, who is in the best position to do so, and still is, has decided that is not something he wants to do.”
Other Republicans have aggressively promoted vaccination, including former Vice President Mike Pence. But their recommendations, even collectively, just don’t carry as much weight as Trump’s.
It’s shameful that he won’t use that power for the good he could do.