As the summer of 2021 sees more Americans enjoying the beaches, swimming pools, summer camps, resorts and movie theaters they missed last summer, it seems many believe the COVID-19 pandemic is finally receding. But, for the return to pre-pandemic life to continue, the nation’s so-far-successful vaccination campaign will need to progress. That, in turn, requires both Democrats and Republicans alike to stop politicizing vaccination.
The facts are pretty simple: Reducing the pandemic’s deadly impact on life in the United States — and around the world — will require herd immunity. The exact percentage needed to achieve herd immunity is partially dependent on the infection, but doctors suggest it’s reached when somewhere between 50 and 90 percent of the population has developed antibodies. Getting to herd immunity is key to ending the restrictions on social interaction — masking mandates, travel restrictions and limits on gathering size — that many Americans have raised questions about as vaccines have rolled out over the past several months. The Trump administration’s successful Operation Warp Speed effort to help develop and distribute vaccines has put it within reach. And top Republican leaders, including Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the “Doctors Caucus” in Congress have called on their supporters to get vaccinated. But the vaccine hesitancy of some groups, including conservatives, still stands in the way of herd immunity.
Ironically, the more people that refuse to get vaccinated, the greater the chances that a lot of safety measures — even unproven ones like mandates to wear masks in uncrowded outdoor areas and plexiglass barriers — become social norms. And the longer people around the world endure the compliance burdens of contact tracing and testing, the more likely additional government intrusion into personal health data becomes normalized. Ultimately, fighting vaccination will lead to more restrictions on freedom — the very thing the holdouts want to avoid.
And this is where politics comes in: a number of left-leaning media sources and a few politicians have gone out of their way to paint all Republicans who aren’t yet vaccinated as sinister, unintelligent and socially destructive. When a columnist implies that Republicans who have questions about vaccines are clueless rubes and Rolling Stone calls a Republican senator “stupid” for being against “vaccine passports” (something Americans across the political spectrum oppose and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has worked to restrict), they destroy their own credibility and potentially discourage vaccination. Who takes advice from someone who calls them dumb, evil and bent on social harm? Even widespread media reporting about genuine Republican “vaccine hesitancy” may overstate the problem: the overwhelming majority of Republicans — somewhere between 60 and 70 percent — do plan to get vaccinated or have been already.
That said, it’s not possible to blame all political problems on left-wing bias. A fair number on the right have said things that discourage vaccination in ways that unnecessarily politicize the issue. Sometimes, these efforts come from understandable, even praiseworthy motives. It’s reasonable for pro-life Americans to look carefully at the ways the vaccines were created. That said, leading pro-life thinkers have endorsed all three commercially available vaccines. It’s also reasonable for people to study the side effects and schedule vaccination around work and family obligations. Understandably, some cannot afford to sacrifice sick days or miss work. In other cases, however, many on the right have told lies in the pursuit of attention or social media clicks. Vaccines simply cannot “modify DNA” and injecting functional microchips into the body through vaccination needles is impossible with current technology. And anyone who thinks that COVID-19 vaccination is a left-wing plot should ask themselves a serious question: Why would Trump, McConnell and nearly every other nationally prominent Republican support more vaccination if getting vaccinated played into a freedom-restricting socialist conspiracy?
In the end, however, the main point is this: Vaccination, like any other medical procedure, must remain a matter of personal choice. There are legitimate medical and moral reasons for some people to turn down vaccination. Conservatives in particular ought to realize that achieving the greater personal liberty they rightly prize requires higher levels of vaccination. Both sides have wrongly politicized an issue that should be a point of consensus. Republicans and Democrats alike need to realize that vaccination should be an issue beyond politics.
Susanna Dokupil is the chair of the libertarian R Street Institute think tank’s board and former general counsel for the Republican Party of Texas. Eli Lehrer is president of the R Street Institute. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.