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Despite a good start, Trump's stance on vaccines gets much worse

The worse Trump's rhetoric about the vaccines becomes, the worse it's likely to be for the public.


On March 1, as public access to COVID-19 vaccines became more common, Donald Trump appeared at a far-right gathering and eventually said the right thing. After insisting that he wanted credit for the development of the vaccines, the former president declared, "So everybody, go get your shot."

About a week later, the Republican issued a related statement that meandered, and was annoyingly whiny, but which was nevertheless pro-vaccine: Trump called the shots "beautiful" and suggested that "everyone" would be receiving them.

As we've discussed, much of the former president's statement was pitiful -- his goal was clearly to seek acclaim for himself, prioritizing his ego over public needs -- but the underlying point remained the same: Trump framed the distribution of vaccines as fundamentally a good thing.

Five months later, his position has deteriorated in ways that are likely to prove consequential.

Trump appeared on Fox Business yesterday morning to whine incessantly. "When I was president you didn't have people protesting the vaccine," he said, conveniently forgetting that when he was president, the vast majority of Americans did not yet have access to the vaccine. The Republican added, in reference to COVID-19, "When I left it was virtually gone. It was over. It was the past."

Over 4,000 Americans died from the virus on Trump's last day in the White House. It was one of the deadliest days of the entire pandemic. For him to believe the crisis was "virtually gone" by mid-January is delusional, even by Trump standards.

But when the on-air conversation turned to booster shots for those who've been vaccinated, things got a little weird.

"That sounds to me like the moneymaking operation for Pfizer, okay?" Trump said. "Think of the money involved.... The whole thing is just crazy. It doesn't -- you wouldn't think you would need a booster. You know, when these first came out, they were good for life."

First, literally no one in a position of authority ever said the vaccines were "good for life."

Second, it was a bit jarring to hear the former president laud coronavirus vaccines and blast coronavirus booster shots in the same interview, seemingly indifferent to the contradiction.

But perhaps most striking is Trump's conspiratorial thinking: public-health officials believe booster shots will help protect the public, and the former president's instincts tell him the "whole thing is just crazy," because he suspects a "moneymaking" scheme.

If this sounds at all familiar, it's probably because Trump has peddled all kinds of weird ideas about the pharmaceutical industry. A couple of years ago, for example, he seemed convinced that Big Pharma was connected to his first impeachment. He later accused Pfizer of delaying the COVID-19 vaccine as part of a scheme to undermine his failed re-election bid. When the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily halted in the spring, Trump again concocted a conspiracy theory involving Pfizer.

Now, naturally, he's doing it again.

The problem is not that the former president manufactures weird beliefs about things he really ought to understand. Rather, what matters is the extent to which Trump's nonsense might influence his followers' behavior. After all, we all need as many people as possible to get vaccinated, and polling suggests it's far-right Republicans who are the most resistant to doing the right thing.

The worse Trump's rhetoric about the vaccines becomes, the worse it's likely to be for the public.