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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Biden administration’s vaccine promotion efforts will look to take politics out of the picture

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The fascism-promoting propagandists willing to sabotage even democracy itself rather than give up power have been equally eager to spread anti-vaccine conspiracies. Now there are tens of millions of Americans who believe them—which could, in turn, thwart “herd immunity” and send the nation into a spiral of new infections with new emerging variants, any one of which could prove able to slip past currently provided vaccines and ignite a new pandemic requiring new lockdowns, a new vaccine development cycle, and an economic collapse. It’s more than a merely theoretical concern, too. New lockdowns around the world are desperately trying to keep pace with new pandemic surges, but are so far not succeeding.

You’d think the existential dangers involved here would be enough to convince conservatism’s various grifters to maybe sit this one out rather than contribute to the snuffing out of untold millions of lives, but no. Three-collared Steve has got legal bills to pay, so here we are. Again.

Despite the grimness of the current situation, there is quite a bit of good news buried in this pony stall. A weekend focus group suggests that vaccine-skeptical Trump supporters are surprisingly easy to sway toward vaccine support, so long as politics is kept strictly out of the equation. The Frank Luntz (sigh)-led group was willing to listen to medical and scientific information from identified experts, but were hostile towards vaccine information presented by any political figures, of either party, regardless of its truth.

What Trump-supporting skeptics are most responding to, then, is the politicization of the pandemic. They’re not necessarily skeptical of either the disease or the vaccines, but are so reflexively suspicious of politics and politicians (yes, go figure) that they’re of a mind to not do whatever politicians tell them to do out of raw, unadulterated spite.

The Biden administration’s pro-vaccine campaign recognizes this, and will attempt to itself dodge politics. STAT reports that the public health campaign will “recruit both celebrities and trusted local officials,” setting aside over $500 million to go to community organizations and leaders to make the case in their own towns directly.

This also suggests that there may be a bit of calculation involved in Biden’s own relatively low profile. While White House press correspondents howl over Biden’s sluggishness in providing the nerdly pageantry of an official presidential “press conference,” when it comes to convincing skeptical Americans to line up for vaccines such pageantry could be actively harmful. Allowing the political temperature to cool while public health programs run their course might be boring, but also might net real results.

Similarly, while the last White House’s orange-tinted resident is still being prodded or invited to promote the vaccine he himself got to his vaccine-skeptical Republican base, our Luntzian focus group suggests that maybe keeping golf-boy on the links is the best possible strategy.

For another bit of good news buried in bad news, we look to the sulfur-scented void that is Facebook’s internal moderation efforts. A new “large-scale” effort by Facebook to understand vaccine hesitancy promoted on its own site has produced some intriguing data, reports The Washington Post. Of the 638 “population segments” Facebook’s researchers have filleted their U.S. users into, just 10 of those groups “contained 50 percent of all vaccine hesitancy content on the platform,” reports the Post. And of those, just 111 users in the most hesitant “segment” produced half its content. (Facebook also found considerable overlap between vaccine skepticism and “QAnon,” yet another demonstration of how the movement that gleefully reskinned neo-Nazi anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about world cabals and baby eating for a new generation of pigheaded gullibles is, as it turns out, Bad.)

But you know what that means, right? All we need to do is deport 111 people to a crumbling Antarctic ice floe and we’ll have solved a large part of the nation’s vaccine “hesitancy” problem. Or, you know, just take their smartphones away.

In any event, there is reason for a wee bit of optimism here. It turns out that aside from the screaming malcontents getting themselves arrested rather than submit to wearing pants masks, even most Dear Leader supporters are not wedded to their anti-vaccination views. So long as they can be convinced that not getting vaccinated for a deadly plague does not in fact “own the libs,” they’re willing to consider it; all the current administration has to do is keep out of the way while Trump supporters work through—heavy sigh—their feelings. But that assumes Fox News, in particular, does not intentionally sabotage the effort with new conspiracy theories—and it does not appear that the Fox board has been making any particular effort to hose down their hosts and save American lives in the process, because money—and that House Republicans and Donald Trump’s rearguard of grifting sycophants will For The Love Of God just shut up for a few blessed moments. We’ll see.


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