Nearly a year and a half into the most serious pandemic in modern times, a growing number of conservative leaders are at long last urging followers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Among the most notable is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who startled many with his open endorsement of the vaccines at a news conference this week. "Those shots need to get in everybody's arm as rapidly as possible, or we're going to be back in the situation in the fall that we don't yearn for, that we went through last year," he told reporters. "I want to encourage everybody to do that and to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice."
That is a remarkable — and urgently needed — endorsement on the part of a leader whose party and former president have been responsible for much of that "bad advice." McConnell has now been joined by the likes of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., another influential Republican who finally received his first vaccine shot earlier this week. Why now? "With the delta variant becoming a lot more aggressive and seeing another spike, it was a good time to do it," he said, declaring the vaccine "safe and effective."
The delta variant Scalise referred to is now responsible for most of the active cases in the U.S., only now it is a pandemic limited to mostly the unvaccinated, who medical officials say make up some 99% of new cases. Yes, there have been a small number of breakthroughs among the vaccinated, but even with those the vaccines are doing their job and mostly blunting the impact of the virus and preventing the need for hospitalization, intubation and worse.
Even some of the most popular figures on Fox News, talk show host Sean Hannity and morning show host Steve Doocy, have abandoned their earlier, politicized skepticism, with Hannity recently begging viewers to "please take COVID seriously — I can't say it enough," adding "I believe in the science of vaccinations."
Well, it's about time. The White House, to its credit, reached out with an informational briefing for Fox News producers and journalists earlier this year and continued contact. That may have helped lay the groundwork for a more rational tone among some conservatives.
There also have been serious economic tremors, with the Dow dropping some 700 points earlier this week, based largely on delta variant fears. Business leaders know all too well how crippling another uptick could be for the economy, potentially bringing lockdowns, mask mandates, distancing and all the other measures needed before the advent of vaccines.
Americans are fortunate to have free and ready access to vaccines that have proved astonishingly effective, including against variants. And yet public health officials estimate that 47% of Minnesota residents are not yet fully vaccinated, including children who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
We strongly urge the state's Republican leaders to follow the national example and actively promote vaccinations whenever and wherever they can. It is the responsible thing to do, particularly in light of an alarming trend toward cases among those younger than 35 — a group that also has the lowest vaccination rates.
If for no other reason, do it to protect the spread among children younger than age 12, who still have no approved vaccine to take, and the many immunocompromised among us who are depending on others to do the right thing.