Alabama's Republican Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday suddenly changed her tune on vaccinations, urging "the unvaccinated folk" in her state to seek out the vaccine as COVID cases climb in a handful of southern and western states, including Alabama.
But she's not alone. Now that Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging Kentuckyians to get vaccinated as soon as possible, more GOP lawmakers and politicians are jumping on the pro-vax bandwagon.
Apparently, with hospitalizations and deaths starting to climb amid a surge in new infections caused by the delta variant, the fearmongering of health experts like Dr. Anothny Fauci has caused GOP strategists to worry that they risk being blamed if there's another surge in COVID cases (even as scientists warn that the virus will very likely remain endemic to the human population, like the flu).
"We as a Republican party have decided that we have to be all in on the vaccine, even though we’re not sure where our followers are," said John Feehery, a partner at EFB Advocacy and a former Republican congressional aide.
"There’s real political risk in the idea of re-shutting down the country. I think Republicans don’t want to be blamed for it."
Still, a handful of mostly red states has passed laws prohibiting the government and private businesses to make vaccines mandatory in keeping with the GOP's emphasis on personal choice. Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose handling of Florida's outbreak has been widely praised, especially by conservatives, warned this weekend that Floridians should get vaccinated. "These vaccines are saving lives...they are reducing mortality."
In Arkansas, the worst-hit state in the country right now, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has embarked on a tour of the state to try and convince voters to get vaccinated.
Despite the mainstream media's demonizing President Trump for allegedly stoking anti-vaccine fears (in fact, few did more to aid in their development than the former president) a handful of heavily pro-Trump GOP lawmakers tried to broadcast a similar message. The group included Elise Stefanik and Steve Scalise.
Andy Harris, aother lawmaker who attended a Thursday pro-vaccine event, told the FT that "people for whom the benefits clearly outweigh the risk . . . should get vaccinated."
"For others however, there are still side effects that are coming to light, and these are decisions that should be discussed with a trusted healthcare provider."
The shift in tone has been echoed by Fox News, a favorite news network of conservatives, where Sean Hannity, one of the channel's biggest stars, said this week that "I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination."
President Joe Biden, eager to blame the GOP and their "messaging" for his failure to meet his vaccination targets, gently ribbed Republicans over the "change of heart".
"They’ve had an altar call, some of those guys. All of a sudden, they’re out there saying, ‘Let’s get vaccinated, let’s get vaccinated’.” But he added: “I shouldn’t make fun of this. That’s good."
Blaming Republicans is a convenient political strategy for Biden, since he has over-promised with his impossible vaccine targets since the beginning. Dr. Scott Gottlieb and others first pointed out months ago that vaccine demand would likely peter out as many adults refuse to get the jab. And now, the US is insisting that a "booster" shot isn't necessary (likely because the administration fears it would give people one more reason to pass on the vaccine) even as new data out of Israel shows vaccines aren't even that effective at blocking infection with the Delta variant.