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GOP advocate message is tarnished by an emphasis on choice and privacy

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WASHINGTON – The tone of some Republican leaders on COVID-19 vaccines has changed in response to the highly contagious Delta variant, but continued emphasis on values ​​like personal freedom and privacy could mess the message.

The delta variant is spreading and encompassing 83 percent of cases in the United States and an even higher percentage in places with lower vaccination rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Affecting the most vulnerable people in the country as well on the economy fragile recovery.

At the same time, according to CNN, almost half of the Republican faction in the House of Representatives still have to say publicly whether they have been vaccinated themselves. Republican lawmakers who have voted in favor of the vaccine also emphasize the importance of individual freedom.

“I think the vaccinations are great. People should definitely consider vaccination, ”said Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “But it’s a personal choice for her. I think the best we can do is keep encouraging and reminding people that they are safe and talking about all of our family and friends who have received the vaccine and have no negative reaction to it had.”

Republican Congressmen who are also doctors of the GOP Doctors Caucus held a press conference Thursday to highlight the importance of vaccines in the face of the rapid spread of the Delta variant, but the remarks focused mostly on investigating the origins of the Wuhan pandemic .

Concerns about vaccination delay and rising COVID-19 case numbers threaten to deflect Republicans’ calls for an investigation into the so-called “laboratory leak” hypothesis that the pandemic is due to coronavirus research in China, as has additional evidence that add some likelihood to credibility.

Republican whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, whose decision to get an injection this week is emblematic of the slight shift in strategy, said at the press conference that FDA approval was not rushed.

He said he previously felt protected from a previous infection by pre-existing immunity, but the Delta variant encourages him to get vaccinated.

The conservative message on personal freedom could obscure the fact that the effects of COVID-19 are much more common and severe than potential vaccine side effects, and that the vaccines have been thoroughly researched.

“I would have hoped that these leaders would not casually highlight personal decisions, but rather say, ‘Now that this Delta variant is in, the situation is changing,'” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “You have a choice whether or not to get vaccinated: I want you to choose whether to get vaccinated.”

Doctors Caucus members refuse to require people, including other Republican members of Congress, to provide evidence of vaccination status.

“We believe in privacy in the healthcare sector,” said Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland.

Public health experts recognize the importance of taking people’s concerns seriously and “speaking to them in their own language” so that nodding at personal freedom and privacy might be useful in encouraging reluctant conservatives to to get a chance.

“You have to speak the language of the person concerned. You have to respect them, ”said Schaffner.

At the same time, the message about individual rights often does not reflect the idea that personal decisions about vaccines have a major impact on the public health of all.

“We all stop at red lights. Occasionally there are people who have a personal desire to run over a red light. That certainly endangers them, but also everyone around them, ”said Schaffner. “Not being vaccinated is like driving through a red light.”

Ashley Kirzinger, who has been conducting vaccine attitudes polls for the impartial Kaiser Family Foundation since January, said nearly a quarter of Republican voters who say they are “definitely not getting” a vaccine have been unmoved since winter.

Emphasizing the risk of the Delta variant could be the most effective potential message Republican lawmakers have in persuading the insistent 23 percent of GOP voters, Kirzinger said.

“If you think the virus is a great risk for you, you may be more inclined to get vaccinated. The delta variant and really scary news around the delta variant can do that. We just don’t know yet, ”said Kirzinger.

But it is not clear that Republicans would like to accept this message.

“This is a great opportunity to talk to your doctor about the pros and cons, and the risks and benefits,” said Senator Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, Thursday. “But I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that science is telling us there is no need to panic about the Delta variant.”

Marshall emphasized the high level of immunization protection among seniors and the millions of Americans with pre-existing immunity.

“This is not the time to close schools. It’s not the time to shut down our economy or put mask requirements on, ”Marshall said.

Marshall also recommended getting an antibody test before vaccination, which the CDC does not recommend.

It is not clear how big a major change in embassies would be among Republican politicians. Kirzinger said politicians are not as persuasive as more trustworthy messengers like friends and family or even cable news presenters.

Nearly 60 percent of the segments about the COVID-19 vaccine on Fox News over a two-week period contained statements that could undermine the perceptions of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, although the newsroom requires evidence, according to a study by the liberal organization Media Matters Vaccination status for employees.

But some popular conservative media figures like Fox News host Sean Hannity and Tennessee radio host Phil Valentine recently urged vaccination after sowing doubts.

“It will take more than the Fox News presenters to change their minds. We need discussions with friends and neighbors, who in turn can encourage others, ”said Kirzinger. “We tested a lot of different messages, carrots and sticks … and there isn’t one thing that will convince everyone. It will happen on site, from person to person. “

Story by Emily Kopp.

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