For a guy who prides himself on his business acumen, this shows a remarkable lack of familiarity with supply and demand. When Trump was president, the pandemic was killing thousands of people every day and those most at risk were clamoring for shots. Over the past seven months, nearly three-quarters of American adults have gotten a vaccine dose and the challenge is specifically that some Americans still refuse to get one. This Trump blamed on Democrats having allegedly claimed that they opposed a vaccine that “Trump came up with” — an effort to both misrepresent the objections made by some Democrats last year (yet again) and to try to suggest that he was central to the vaccine’s development (yet again). Fox News Digital declined to challenge Trump on these assertions.
Over on the network’s morning show “Fox & Friends,” host Brian Kilmeade regurgitated another common effort to shift the blame off of Trump’s political base.
“Why doesn’t the president call out African Americans who put him in office and yell at them to get the shot?” Kilmeade asked Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.) in an interview. After all, he said, only 4 in 10 Black Americans had received a vaccine dose.
This is accurate, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) data. (The actual figure is 43 percent.) But Kilmeade here is deploying a familiar tactic, using the White-vs.-Black comparison to mask the less favorable but more apropos Democrat-vs.-Republican one. As KFF found in July, it is the case that Whites are more likely to express willingness to be vaccinated than Black Americans — but only because White Democrats are very likely to be vaccinated. Black Americans are much less hesitant than White Republicans.
New polling from CNN and their partners at SRSS reinforces that point. They found that about 27 percent of Americans hadn’t yet received a dose of a vaccine, including 26 percent of Whites and 32 percent of Blacks. But among White Republicans the figure was 39 percent, compared to 6 percent of White Democrats. It’s also important to contrast lack of vaccination with opposition to vaccination. Only 22 percent of Black respondents told CNN that they wouldn’t get vaccinated, the same as the overall national figure. Among Republicans, more than a third expressed outright opposition.
This comparison is misleading in another way: There are more White Republicans in the United States than Black adults. Twelve percent of the U.S. population is made up of adult Blacks. Adult Whites make up 64 percent of the population, and 28 percent of them are Republican. (An additional 15 percent are Republican-leaning independents.) In other words, there are about twice as many Republican or Republican-leaning White adults as there are Black adults. This is a large part of why KFF found in July that a majority of those who weren’t vaccinated were Republicans and, again, that the density of those who adamantly oppose vaccination skews more heavily to the right.
Why might Black Americans have lower vaccination rates even while they’re less likely to express vaccine hesitancy? There have been some infrastructural issues at play over the course of the year, and those who have less income — a group that often overlaps with non-White Americans — have been less likely to get a vaccine dose.
There’s another interesting indicator to consider. We pointed out in July that America’s rate of new vaccinations had tapered so dramatically that we were being passed in vaccination rates by other high-income nations including France and Canada. Recent figures from Our World in Data show that the United States is now near the middle of the pack compared to our economic peers — and are about to be passed by some nations that are currently trailing. It’s useful to overlap those numbers with Pew Research Center polling from late July, finding far more hesitancy to covid-19 restrictions among members of the political right in the United States than in other countries. Vaccination rates in the U.S. are relatively low and not growing quickly even as the politics of the virus in our country is much more polarized.
Then there’s the other rebuttal to the Trump/Kilmeade claims: Biden and Democrats have tried to push hesitant Democrats and Black Americans to get vaccinated. The White House announced a “Shots at the Shop” initiative aimed at involving Black-owned barbershops and salons to support vaccination efforts, for example. In March, it announced a $10 billion effort to target lower-vaccinated areas around the country and it has engaged community organizations in efforts to directly contact people to encourage vaccinations. The White House certainly would agree that indifference to vaccinations is too high in the Black community.
We should be very direct in pointing out that this line of argument, redirecting from one problematic group to another, is well-worn. Why are we accepting Afghan refugees when people in America are starving? Why aren’t Democrats worried about gun violence in Chicago? It’s generally little more than an attempt to rationalize inaction by suggesting that the left is being insincere in its complaints, an attempt that often relies on ignoring the actual efforts of opponents to focus on the very things that are purportedly being ignored.
It also helps divert from their own inaction. Trump has done little to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated after spending a year undercutting government expertise in the hopes of bolstering his reelection chances. Kilmeade has shrugged at the necessity of vaccination, in concert with his network more broadly for much of the year. It’s not just that they’re accusing Biden and the left of failing, it’s that they’re making that accusation while doing little to nothing themselves to encourage success.
Which is why they’re doing it. Lack of vaccinations is a serious problem for national health and the economy. Trump and his allies have promoted skepticism of the vaccines by elevating claims that encouragement to get a shot conflicts with individual freedoms. Now that the damage of that skepticism is readily apparent, they want to push the blame elsewhere.