So long as Donald Trump had his Diet Coke button on the Resolute Desk, both Republicans in Congress and on Fox News felt like they had to play the anti-vax game with a soupcon of restraint. Sure, Trump may have received his vaccine out of the public view, his distribution system for vaccines was nonexistent, and his last weeks in office brought not just insurrection but the largest wave of disease and death … but it was hard to pretend vaccines were the product of the “Deep State” when Trump insisted on taking 110% credit for their development every time the subject came up.
Then President Joe Biden arrived and did everything right. Biden’s team immediately got on top of vaccine distribution. Immediately made the purchases necessary to ensure an adequate supply. Immediately began knocking off goals one by one. And immediately began pushing down Trump’s parting gift as both death rates and new cases steadily dropped. Fox News must have felt enormously relieved.
Because now they have their target. Now they have the theme they can, and are, driving into Republicans across the nation. Now they can be full-on, rip-roaringly anti-vax. Fox is determined to keep COVID-19 burning; to make sure the threat persists; and, most of all, to keep masks, social distancing, and vaccines alive as a political issue.
Fox News had already moved to the point where true patriotism could only be displayed by having such a hatred for the American government that you’re willing to die rather than let them save you. Now they’re directing hate at health care volunteers.
There’s a point in the movie Alien where the rest of the crew realizes that Ash has been protecting the invader, even as it was picking them off one at a time. That’s the role Fox News has played in this pandemic. They’ve mumbled distractions about the virus’ origins, regularly invoked claims of communism, and in general done everything possible to downplay the consequences of the disease, even as something like 1 million Americans have died. Now that inconvenient crew members are out of the way, they are not bothering to hide: They are fully on Team Virus.
That includes promoting anger against local doctors, nurses, and health care volunteers. And Republicans at all levels of government are eagerly playing along.
Despite an enormous drop in new cases of COVID-19 since the February peak, the disease hasn’t come close to vanishing. In fact, cases have been up day over day since the last week of June. That’s thanks to a series of hot-spots that can be mapped directly to some of the most Trump-loving counties in the nation. As NPR reports, low vaccination rates in Republican counties are creating centers of disease that threaten to spread into a fourth wave across the nation. This is particularly true of southwest Missouri, which has emerged as the go-to place for a delta variant explosion. As KMOV reports, Missouri has been ranked as the “least safe state” both on the chances of testing positive for COVID-19 and the chances of dying from the disease. Over the past seven days, the CDC set the rate of new cases in Missouri at more than 10 times that in neighboring Illinois or Iowa. Missouri’s rate of new cases is over 30 times that of the states at the top of the list.
Hospitals in the area around Springfield, Missouri, are becoming overwhelmed. Patients are regularly being sent to hospitals in St. Louis and Kansas City as local ICUs hit their limits. One man was even sent to Dallas, Texas, in the search for an available bed. Not only are they getting more patients, they’re getting sicker patients, particularly younger and sicker patients, who need to be hospitalized for longer periods. As a result, beds aren’t opening up as quickly as they did in previous waves of the disease.
So, when President Biden called for expanding an effort at door-to-door vaccine visits—a program that has already met with success in other states, but which experts don’t feel is enough to dent the Republican anti-vax sentiment in states like Missouri—it might have been expected to be met with a least some degree of enthusiasm.
Instead, as ABC News reports, Republican Gov. Mike Parson made it immediately clear he doesn't want door-to-door help in getting people vaccinated. Which might seem particularly odd since Missouri did specifically request that the federal government send in “surge response” teams to the hardest hit regions. But on Thursday, Parson tweeted: “I have directed our health department to let the federal government know that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR a welcome strategy in Missouri!"
What’s wrong with that tweet? Everything. The people going door-to-door in programs that have been conducted elsewhere are not federal agents, but local doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other health care volunteers. And no one, anywhere, is forcing anyone to get vaccinated.
Where would Parson get such ideas? A united effort between Fox News and Republican officials is working to try and turn neighborhood volunteers out to save the lives of their friends and families into goose-stepping Nazis—or Chinese Communists, take your pick—out to perform medical experiments on the unwilling.
As The Washington Post reports, it’s not just Parson trying to put these volunteers in danger. Republican members of Congress and Fox News talkers at every hour of the day have repeatedly pushed the idea of “forced vaccination” and repeatedly invoked Nazis. They’ve also extended this into a claim that this is an effort to invade the homes of Republican voters and collect information about them for purposes of everything including gun confiscation.
The anti-vax sentiment at Fox News has steadily seeped from the evening haunts of Tucker Carlson to pervade the supposed “news” programs as the network makes clear that “opposing Biden” means doing so even when that directly results in deaths among its audience.
Both Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have reliably posted tweets about “medical brownshirts” and “needle Nazis.” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich jumped on the ‘collecting medical information’ bandwagon, suggesting that the White House now claims to have everyone’s medical records. Biden made no such claim. The White House has no such records. Which, of course, hasn’t stopped others from repeating these claims. The Tennessee Department of Health has now halted vaccination events aimed at teens after threats and support of anti-vax sentiments from local Republican Party officials.
And of course, Carlson has kept up his constant claims, determining this week that offering COVID-19 vaccine is now “the greatest scandal in my lifetime” and worse then the Iraq War. Carlson probably regrets making those statements on Tuesday, because they actually came before President Biden discussed door-to-door volunteers, leaving Carlson with a shortage of superlatives for his next assault. He’ll think of something.
It’s clear at this point that Republicans and Fox News have determined that they are not only playing to Trump, they are playing to everything vile within the Republican base. Racism? Sure. Xenophobia? Of course. A policy that treats everyone who is LGBTQ as various forms of monsters? You got it.
Even so, pushing a narrative they know to be false, for the sole purpose of building hate, and the direct result of causing ongoing illness and death … that’s special.
Civiqs data shows that a slim majority of Republican adults have already been vaccinated. So have 90% of Democrats and 65% of those who claim neither party. But 41% of Republicans are all in on the cult of anti-vax. So is their party. So is Fox News.
It’s difficult to call this the ultimate result of the party’s long-term trend toward anti-science or its abiding welcome of conspiracy theories. But only because they’re sure to think of something even more hateful and destructive.