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Image: Health worker receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
A health worker receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Madrid, Spain, on Feb. 4, 2021.Sergio Perez / Reuters

Why it matters that Trump told conservatives, 'Go get your shot'

If Trump's comments, regardless of his motivations, help encourage conservative vaccine skeptics to get the shot, then everyone will benefit.


We all know the cliché about the exasperating relatives who believe strange things because they watch Fox News all day. But it's become a cliché because the phenomenon is so common -- including in my family.

I have a relative, for example, who's spent months rejecting COVID data and resisting common-sense precautions, convinced that the pandemic is part of some kind of political scheme. Asked recently about whether he'll get vaccinated, this relative, who's a little too fond of consuming conservative media, declared, "I'm not putting that stuff in my body."

The relative, a septuagenarian eligible for a vaccination, didn't actually say "stuff," but you get the idea.

The challenge for those who want to help protect this relative is convincing him that there's nothing inherently political or ideological about getting vaccinated against a deadly virus. Republicans will benefit from the shot just as much as everyone else.

It's also why it was so notable to see Donald Trump recommend vaccinations during his remarks yesterday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The Washington Post noted:

"We took care of a lot of people — including, I guess, on December 21st, we took care of Joe Biden, because he got his shot, he got his vaccine," Trump said, before suggesting that Biden's vaccination shows how few side effects come with the vaccine. "It shows you how unpainful that vaccine shot is." ... "So everybody, go get your shot," Trump added.

So everybody, go get your shot.

In context, the former president delivered the comments in the most Trumpian way possible. The Republican went on and on about what he considered the most important detail: giving Trump "100 percent" credit.

"Never forget that we did it," Trump told attendees. "Never let them take the credit because they don't deserve the credit. They just followed, they're following our plan.... Joe Biden is only implementing the plan that we put in place."

None of these comments were true, of course -- the Trump administration didn't develop a vaccine distribution plan -- but the former president just kept going.

"Never let them forget," he added. "This was us. We did this. And the distribution is moving along, according to our plan."

After rambling a bit more, and ironically accusing Biden of not understanding the details of governing, Trump finally concluded his thought by encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Sure, ideally the former president would be principally concerned with public health, not personal glorification. And sure, it'd be nice if Trump were capable of offering sound advice about vaccinations without lying or taking cheap shots at the president who's succeeding where he failed. And sure, it'd be great if the former president hadn't done so much damage to his credibility on this issue.

But ultimately, what matters most is the public-health consequences in the midst of a deadly pandemic: if Trump's comments, regardless of his motivations, help encourage conservative vaccine skeptics to get a needle in their shoulder, then everyone will benefit.

It shouldn't be necessary, but if members of my family can now go to my Fox News-watching relative and say, "Even Trump says 'everybody' should 'go get your shot,'" I'll take it.