Getting the shot is the best way to “end the government's restrictions on our freedoms," Rep. Larry Bucshon, an Indiana Republican and heart surgeon who wore a white lab coat and stethoscope when he talked to the camera.
The public service message was the latest effort from GOP heads to shrink the vaccination gap between their party and Democrats. With vaccination rates lagging in red states, Republican leaders have stepped up forces to urge their followers to get the shot, at times fighting misinformation published by some of their own.
“Medicine and science and illness, that should not be political,” stated Dr. Brad Wenstrup, a Republican congressman from Ohio and a podiatrist who has personally given coronavirus vaccine shots both as an Army Reserve officer and as an ordinary doctor. “But it was an election year and it really was.”
Wenstrup explained that both parties helped foment some doubt, though increasingly vocal moves by other Republicans amount to an acknowledgment that GOP vaccine hesitancy is a rising public health problem — and possibly a political one.
"Things could easily spiral quickly if we don’t solve this red-state-blue-state issue," announced Kavita Patel, a physician and health policy specialist who worked in the Obama administration.
Patel said life could go back to normal in some parts of the nation while the pandemic proceeds to rage somewhere else — possibly even disrupting in-person voting in primaries ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
“We could be sitting here in the winter-fall with an entirely different, scary version of the pandemic,” she said. “One driven by a combination of variants and people who didn’t want to get vaccinated.”
It's simple to detect possible trouble spots now — and the political pattern.
Mississippi has the country's lowest vaccination rate, with less than 31% of its population getting at least one anti-coronavirus shot. And the four states that continue it in national rankings, Alabama, Louisiana, Idaho and Wyoming, according to an Associated Press analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. They all vote reliably Republican in presidential races.
By contrast, the five states with the highest vaccination rates supported Democrat Joe Biden in November. New Hampshire leads the country with 60% of its population getting at least one dose, followed by Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut. The fifth highest vaccination rate state, Maine, awarded three of its electoral votes to Biden and one to former President Donald Trump.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they definitely or probably won’t get vaccinated, 44% versus 17%, according to a poll released in February from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs.