Top conservatives make an about-face, urge people to get vaccinated. Will more roll up their sleeves?

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski

U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (Republican of Louisiana) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Scalise got vaccinated against COVID on Sunday. Credit: Rod Lamkey/CNP/Sipa USA.

Steve Scalise, the second highest ranking Republican in the House, got vaccinated against COVID on Sunday. 

He said today outside the Capitol: “We’ve expressed confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. ... I would encourage people to get the vaccine. I have high confidence in it. … If somebody has hesitation, they ought to have that conversation with their doctor.”

Meanwhile, LA has had a 20-fold increase in new cases in just a month — to 2500 on Wednesday. Cases are spiking all over the country, especially in southern states. 

“Please take COVID seriously. I can’t say it enough. … We don’t need any more deaths. Research like crazy. Talk to … medical professionals you trust based on your unique medical history, your current medical condition. And you and your doctor make a very important decision for your own safety. Take it seriously. You also have a right to medical privacy, doctor-patient confidentiality is also important. And it absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. … I believe in the science of vaccination.”

That was a stark about-face from a host on a network that spent more than a year downplaying the pandemic. 

David Graham, staff writer for The Atlantic, says the timing of Republican support for vaccination is confounding.

“There's clearly a renewed worry around the country, in many walks of life about it. It's a little bit strange to me though, because while there is a rising risk from Delta, there has also been a risk to the pandemic all along,” Graham tells KCRW. “We haven't seen the same sort of worry and the same sort of urgency around messaging that we're seeing now.” 

He notes there’s a theory that Fox News and the White House have had conversations around vaccines and its COVID-19 coverage, as reported by CNN. Fox has since denied the news. 

Despite the late arrival to supporting vaccines, Graham says it’s still good progress.

“Anybody who takes this and takes encouragement to get a shot, that's a good sign. I think anything we can do to sort of de-politicize this is good. I do worry that at this stage, it's a little late. And I also wonder whether the horse is out of the barn at this point,” he says. “But any dent it makes seems like something to applaud. And we should applaud these people for saying the right thing, even if it has taken a while.”