Fauci: Republican vaccine deniers are hurting efforts to lift Covid restrictions

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Richard Luscombe
·5 min read
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<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

Republicans who refuse the Covid-19 vaccination are actively “working against” efforts to lift the very coronavirus restrictions they insist are an infringement of their civil liberties, Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government’s leading infectious disease expert, said on Sunday.

Fauci’s comments came as the government announced that half of all adults in the US had received at least one Covid-19 shot, marking another milestone in the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign. Almost 130 million people 18 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, or 50.4% of the total adult population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. Almost 84 million adults, or about 32.5% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.

But Fauci, who was involved in a fiery exchange over the issue with the Republican congressman Jim Jordan on Thursday, told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday he was frustrated by recent studies showing that up to 45% of Republicans would not take the vaccine.

“The fact that one may not want to get vaccinated, in this case a disturbingly large proportion of Republicans, only actually works against where they want to be,” he said.

“They want to be able to say these restrictions that are put on by public health recommendations are things that they’re very concerned about. But the way you get rid of those restrictions is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

“When that happens for absolutely certain you’re going to see the level of virus in the community go down and down and down to the point where you would not have to have those public health restrictions.”

Fauci said the attitude displayed by the Republican vaccine deniers was “paradoxical”.

“On the one hand they want to be relieved of the restrictions. On the other hand, they don’t want to get vaccinated, it just almost doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “This is a public health issue, it’s not a civil liberties issue.”

Fauci clashed with Jordan, a congressman from Ohio, when the US’s top health officials testified before Congress on Thursday and Jordan asked Fauci when Americans “get their liberty and freedoms back”.

“We’re not talking about liberties. We’re talking about a pandemic that has killed 560,000 Americans,” Fauci told the congressman.

About one in four members of the House of Representatives had not been vaccinated by March, three months after shots were being made available. A list of those who are not vaccinated is not publicly available, but several Republican members of Congress have admitted they do not plan to get the jab.

Fauci’s comments come amid a resurgence of Covid-19 across the US, with an 8% rise in new cases in the last two weeks even as the number of those vaccinated continues to grow.

Fauci said the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the use of which was suspended in the US last week after reports of extremely rare and severe blood clots in six women, could be reinstated as early as Friday at a meeting of the CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices (ACIP).

“I doubt very seriously they’ll just cancel it,” he said in a later appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I do think that there will likely be some sort of warning or restriction or risk assessment. I don’t think [the advisory committee] is going to say, ‘everything’s fine,’ I think it’ll likely say, ‘OK, we’re going to use it, but be careful under these certain circumstances’.”

He said that although the incidences of blood clots were rare, “you have six cases in close to seven million people,” he said, the temporary suspension of the J&J vaccine was necessary.

“There’s a twofold reason for doing it, to pause and take a look in more detail about it, and to make sure that the physicians treat people appropriately,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, acknowledged on Sunday her state was at “a very serious moment” as new infections continued to rise, but she continued to resist growing pressure to reinstate restrictions she lifted in March.

Michigan has become a new Covid-19 hotspot, with hospitalizations setting a new pandemic record last week and the state recording more than 2,200 cases of the B117 coronavirus variant, more than one-tenth the total for the entire US.

“In the waning months I have been sued by my legislature, I have lost in a Republican controlled Supreme Court, and I don’t have all of the exact same tools,” Whitmer told MTP host Chuck Todd, who asked if she was backing away from a firmer stance.

“Despite those things, we still have some of the strongest mitigation measures in the country, masked mandates, capacity limitations, working from home. We’re moving fast to get shots in arms, a million in two weeks, a million in just the last nine days. [But] I’m working with a smaller set of tools at my disposal.

“We are at a very serious moment and that’s precisely why we’re going to keep following the science, imploring people to do the right things, keep our mitigations up and keep moving vaccines as quickly as we possibly can.”

Globally, coronavirus deaths passed the grim milestone of three million on Saturday. Jeremy Farrar, director of the UK’s Wellcome Trust, warned that the true number of deaths was probably much higher.

“Worryingly, this pandemic is still growing at an alarming rate. Hundreds of thousands are dying every month,” he said.

The US leads the world in Covid-19 deaths with 566,937 deaths and almost 32m cases, more than twice as many as any other country according to the Johns Hopkins university of medicine on Sunday.