In general, Americans trust and admire medical doctors. A Gallup report last year found that physicians rank near the top for professions the public see as honest and ethical. Earlier this year, a YouGov poll pointed in a similar direction.
With this in mind, it was encouraging to see congressional Republicans' "Doctors' Caucus" — made up of elected lawmakers who are also medical professionals — release a video in April encouraging Americans to get Covid-19 vaccinations. Several of the GOP lawmakers helped drive the point home by appearing in white lab coats.
One House Republican, North Carolina's Greg Murphy, even seemed to tailor his message to his fellow conservatives: "The only way to protect ourselves and your loved ones — and to end the government's restrictions on our freedoms — is to take action and get the vaccine."
That was six months ago. Some members of the GOP's "Doctors' Caucus" have headed in far more discouraging directions of late. For example, consider this Washington Post report from Wednesday:
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a practicing anesthesiologist, said he has prescribed ivermectin, a medication typically used to treat parasites in livestock and humans, as a covid-19 treatment, and he lashed out at pharmacies for not making the drug readily available, according to a recent radio interview.
The Maryland Republican — who appeared in the worthwhile video in April, encouraging Americans to do the smart and responsible thing — made these new comments during a call-in radio program. While touting ivermectin, and whining about pharmacists who are "just refusing" to fill prescriptions, Harris neglected to mention to listeners that ivermectin is not effective in treating Covid-19.
On the same program, the congressman fielded a call from a listener who said instead of getting vaccinated, he was relying on a checklist created by a right-wing group called America's Frontline Doctors.
"Good idea," Harris interjected. He went on to question whether mask protections actually "do anything."
The GOP House member isn't alone. The Associated Press also reported on another Republican physician in Congress dispensing "sketchy medical advice."
Roger Marshall won't let people forget he's a doctor, putting "Doc" in the letterhead of his U.S. Senate office's news releases. But when he talks about COVID-19 vaccines, some doctors and experts say the Kansas Republican sounds far more like a politician than a physician. He's made statements about vaccines and immunity that defy both medical consensus and official U.S. government guidance.
Remember, Marshall, like Harris, was in the "Doctors' Caucus" video six months ago, assuring Americans that the vaccine was safe and effective.
And yet, according to the AP's report, the Kansas Republican — an obstetrician by trade — is now taking positions "closer to the medical fringe," including telling the public he took a weekly dose of hydroxychloroquine, despite the evidence.
What's less clear to me is the rationale behind the shift. In April, Harris and Marshall — both of whom appeared in white lab coats — presented themselves as voices of reason, delivering a responsible message to Americans about vaccines. In October, these same two congressional Republicans have arrived at a wildly different place.
It's hard not to wonder whether the anti-science backlash across much of the Republican base is leading GOP officials who know better to say wildly irresponsible things.