Here’s why a popular right-wing talking point about COVID-19 vaccines is so misleading — and dangerous
Right-wing media and the MAGA Republicans they cater to aren't big on nuance or details. They often thrive on soundbites and cheap emotion rather than offering details and informative explanations, and a perfect example has to do with the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Washington Post opinion writer Aaron Blake, this week in his column, calls out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others on the far right who are omitting crucial facts where vaccines are concerned and are causing considerable harm in the process.
"Politics is a business that rewards saying things that are technically true — or at least not provably false — in the service of promoting one's viewpoint," Blake explains. "Such is the case with the most ascendant and pernicious talking point among anti-vaccine activists, mandate critics and even just conservatives who are playing to the vaccine-skeptic crowd: that the coronavirus vaccines don't prevent infections or the transmission of the virus."
Blake continues, "The talking point is everywhere these days, including among those who say that they are pro-vaccine. It's also utterly misleading, even in the cases in which it's not presented in an utterly false manner. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a potential 2024 presidential contender whose comments and actions have trended in a more vaccine-skeptical direction, said last week, 'We know — and the data is very clear at this point — COVID vaxes are not preventing infection.' The same day, Fox News host Tucker Carlson welcomed anti-vaccine activist Alex Berenson on his show yet again."
COVID-19 vaccines do offer major protection against infections. There is not a 100% guarantee that someone who is vaccinated will not be infected with COVID-19; people who are vaccinated but get infected anyway are what medical experts refer to as "breakthrough" cases. And at this point, the vast majority of people dying from COVID-19 in the United States are unvaccinated people, not "breakthrough" cases.
The devil is in the details, and Blake — unlike DeSantis or Carlson — offers some crucial details in his column, noting, "The vaccines do not prevent you from getting the coronavirus in 100% of cases — or transmitting it if you get it. But this is also something we've essentially known from the start. The earliest studies of the coronavirus vaccine showed efficacy rates against infection in the 90th percentile and higher. That meant some vaccinated people were still going to become infected and potentially transmit the virus to others. Since then, we've seen the efficacy of the vaccines wane, particularly as people have gotten farther away from their shots and as the virus has mutated and the delta variant wave took hold. The boosters have been shown to significantly increase protection."
Take Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and "Real Time" host Bill Maher, for example. Both were fully vaccinated for COVID-19 but were infected anyway. Maher was asymptomatic, and the 66-year-old Graham told a GOP crowd in his state, "I'm confident if I hadn't had the vaccine, it'd have been a lot worse." That statement got him heckled and booed.
"While it's true that the vaccines don't completely stop infections and transmissions, they certainly reduce the spread by a large amount," Blake emphasizes. "And there is evidence — albeit preliminary and with some counterpoints — that they also stop transmissions in the fewer vaccinated people who become infected. In other words, if the goal is not just to prevent the most serious cases — which the vaccines clearly do — but also, to stomp out the virus more broadly, the vaccines unquestionably help. But these folks focus almost exclusively on the limits of the vaccine in a way that betrays their agenda and provides people with a slanted view of the vaccines' effectiveness. It provides a window into why unvaccinated Republicans, in particular, wrongly perceive no real benefit from vaccination."
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