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Column: Mike Pence gets vaccinated. It’s the least he could do, after lying about COVID for so long

Vice President Mike Pence receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
(Associated Press)

In an all-too-rare display of pandemic-era leadership, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, received the new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in front of cameras on Friday morning.

“We gather here today at the end of a historic week to affirm to the American people that hope is on the way,” Pence said after his shot. “Karen and I were more than happy to step forward before this week was out to take this safe and effective coronavirus vaccine that we have secured and produced for the American people. It’s truly an inspiring day.”

It’s the least he could do.

Back in June, in a shamefully misguided Wall Street Journal essay, Pence derided the idea that the country was heading for a “second wave” of infections, and blamed news organizations for fearmongering.

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“The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way,” he wrote, “and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different …. We’ve slowed the spread, we’ve cared for the most vulnerable, we’ve saved lives, and we’ve created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future. That’s a cause for celebration.”

Those were lies. There was certainly no cause for celebration. He owes an apology to every reporter on the COVID beat.

On the day his essay ran, public health officials reported nearly 25,000 new cases of COVID-19. Since then, the number of new daily cases has never dropped. It has climbed steadily, and on Wednesday, it reached a record 245,000 new cases in a single day.

On the day his essay ran, more than 100,000 Americans had already died of COVID-19. By the time he got his vaccination, 311,000 Americans were dead, and there is no end in sight to the carnage.

Surveys offer conflicting data about vaccine willingness. A new Kaiser Health Foundation survey found that 71% of respondents said they would definitely or probably get a vaccine. However, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey taken around the same time found that only half of U.S. residents say they want to get vaccinated as soon as possible. A quarter say they aren’t sure, while the rest say they don’t want it. In the AP-NORC survey, 53% of white respondents said they would get the vaccine, 34% of Latino respondents said they would, and only 24% of Black respondents would.

The skepticism among people of color is understandable. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who received the Pfizer vaccine along with the Pences, acknowledged the importance of outreach to those communities, alluding to the federal government’s infamous Tuskegee experiments, where Black patients infected with syphilis thought they were receiving free medical care, but instead were left untreated, used as guinea pigs for doctors who wanted to observe the disease’s natural progression.

“As I said this morning,” Adams, who is Black, tweeted later, “it’s not only okay to have questions about a medical treatment or vaccine — it’s normal and expected. What’s NOT okay is letting misinformation or mistrust lead you to make a poor decision for YOUR health!”

::

Having spent time in the trenches of the last vaccine wars, I can tell you it comes as no surprise that there is already widespread resistance to the COVID-19 vaccines. Not to mention conspiracy theories. The other day, I watched a video alleging that nasal swabs used for testing were a way for the government to inject nanoparticles of gene-altering agents into our bodies.

Some hesitance is to be expected; the vaccines are new and were developed at breakneck speed. Add to this the pervasive mistrust of scientific expertise that has flourished under the Trump administration, plus the irrational politicization of social distancing practices and the tendency to conflate mask mandates and other social distancing rules with totalitarianism.

The mode of transmission for distrust is no surprise: it’s social media in general, researchers say, and Facebook and Instagram in particular.

One cartoon circulating on Facebook right now shows a nurse administering the vaccine to a man wearing a mask.

“So now I’m immune, right?” he asks.

“No,” she replies, “you can still get it.”

“But do I still have to wear mask?”

“Yes.”

“Is the manufacturer liable if I am harmed?”

“No.”

“So why did I do this?”

“No idea,” says the nurse. “I’m just following orders.”

::

Nothing in the cartoon, except the nurse’s final absurd comment, is wrong.

Here’s why:

Anyone following the news knows that the approved vaccines have been shown to be 95% effective, not 100%.

As Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told Sirius XM’s Marc Siegel on Thursday, “The vaccine is highly efficacious in preventing clinically recognizable disease. And it is also highly effective in preventing severe disease.” It’s too early to know whether or not it prevents infection altogether, he cautioned, “but it gets the level of virus so low in the nasal pharynx that it isn’t transmissible.”

Masks, say public health experts, are a precaution we all must take in public until enough people have been vaccinated that the pandemic subsides.

And by law, vaccine manufacturers cannot be held liable for harm, because if they could be, no company would risk making vaccines, and herd immunity would be a thing of the past. This is not to say that people who believe they or their children have been injured by vaccines have no recourse. They do. Two federal programs help people who can show they have been injured by vaccines. One, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, covers childhood vaccines. The other, the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program, covers newer vaccines including COVID, anthrax and influenza.

I, for one, plan to wear a mask and continue to practice social distancing until Dr. Fauci tells me otherwise. And when I am offered a shot, I will walk over hot coals to get it.

@AbcarianLAT


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