Rep. Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green and Sen. Mitch McConnell have been the Republicans in the state’s federal delegation most actively promoting vaccines. (Photo by Alan Warren, Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer)
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
By their own account, or lack of it, most Republicans in Kentucky’s congressional delegation are doing little or nothing to promote the coronavirus vaccinations, as Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear asked them to.
On March 18, Beshear sent a letter to the eight members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation, asking them to promote the safety and effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines, and to encourage Kentuckians to get one.
Kentucky Health News asked each member of the delegation how they have responded to the governor’s request, with the exception of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been urging audiences to get vaccinated in several stops around the state recently.
All of the state’s delegation are Republicans except Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville. National polling shows that Republicans, especially male Republicans, are more resistant to getting the vaccine. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll
conducted last month found that 49% of Republican men don’t plan to get a coronavirus vaccine, compared with 6% of Democratic men.
Beshear’s letter cited similar surveys: a CBS News poll that showed 22 percent of American adults and 33% of Republicans would not get a vaccine when they can, and an Associated Press poll showing 32% of adults and 44% of registered Republicans would either definitely not or probably not.
“In light of this, it is vital that we do all we can as leaders to encourage our constituents to receive the life-saving vaccine,” Beshear wrote.
He concluded, “I ask for your help in promoting the importance and safety of the vaccines through your social-media accounts and in your public appearances. The more we can all make clear to Kentuckians that receiving the vaccine is a public health issue and not a partisan one, the more lives we will save and the sooner we will be able to return to business as usual in our great commonwealth. Thank you.”
Beshear and President Joe Biden and his appointees have praised
McConnell’s efforts to encourage Americans to get vaccinated, and most recently with a targeted message for Republican men.
“I’m a Republican man, and I want to say to everyone, we need to take this vaccine. These reservations need to be put aside,” McConnell said at an April 5 news conference in Lexington.
U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie of the 2nd District told Kentucky Health News he was encouraging Kentuckians to get vaccinated long before that March 18 letter.
“The governor is late to the game. I have been encouraging Covid-19 vaccines all along,” Guthrie said in an e-mail.
S.K. Bowen, Guthrie’s communications director, added that Guthrie has played an active role in the oversight of the nation’s pandemic vaccine response, and continues to do so in his role as the Republican leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee.
“When encouraging people to receive Covid-19 vaccines, he shares that he knows from his oversight work that vaccines are safe and have been through a rigorous review process without cutting safety corners,” she said.
Guthrie toured vaccine clinics in his district last week, encouraging vaccinations, and was covered by the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer
and Bowling Green’s WNKY
“We have safe vaccines,” he said in Owensboro. “You can call here today and get your vaccine without a waiting list anymore.”
In Bowling Green, where he lives, Guthrie said, “Whatever your political perspective is, you have presidents on both sides and both parties that have pushed this and promoted it and so therefore, I just encourage everybody to get a vaccine so we can put our masks behind us,”
In Glasgow, he also noted bipartisan support, but gave Republicans an extra nudge: “If you think that it’s a political problem, so you are not going to get vaccinated, that is just not the right way to look at it, because it has been across both administrations. As a matter of fact, most of the work was done under President Trump’s administration, so if you are politically conservative and are concerned about vaccines because of the government, most of this was done under President Trump.”
Yarmuth’s communication director, Christopher Schuler, said the Louisville congressman is talking about the importance of vaccination nearly every day, in social media, meetings and public events.
“He’s been discussing it throughout the pandemic and passage of these relief bills he helped craft, but we were certainly glad to see the governor urging the entire delegation to do more,” Schuler said in an e-mail.
Sen. Rand Paul has sparred repeatedly with Dr. Anthony Fauci, most recently
about mask wearing by vaccinated people. In an April 5 opinion piece
for The Hill
, which covers Congress, Paul wrote “I’m in favor of vaccines,” but is also in favor of people making their own medical and personal decisions.
“I’m a Duke Medical School-trained M.D. and I studied immunology before moving on to my career in eye surgery. Vaccines are a marvel of modern medicine, and the speed and effectiveness of the Covid vaccines have been great,” he wrote. “I urge everyone to get the vaccine if you think you need or want it. And then I urge everyone in America to throw away their masks, demand their schools be open, and live your lives free of more government mandates and interference.”
The other libertarian-leaning Republican in Kentucky’s congressional delegation, Rep. Thomas Massie of the 4th District, indicating that he’s not promoting vaccines because he’s not getting one himself.
“I’m leaving personal medical decisions up to the individuals and won’t be undertaking a vaccine promotion campaign,” he said in a email. “It would be somewhat disingenuous for me to do so when I have no plans to receive the vaccine myself, in the absence of data showing that it’s beneficial to those who’ve already recovered from the virus.”
Asked about people who haven’t been exposed, he replied, “Ultimately, people should listen to their personal doctors. It would be foolish for the general public to take health advice from my cohort of politicians, who are themselves fairly unhealthy, uneducated in science or medicine, don’t think that being $30 trillion in debt is a concern, and are conditioned to say what will most benefit themselves.”
The other members of the delegation have been less active or less responsive.
The office of 6th District Rep. Andy Barr noted that he was vaccinated in Washington in December, and posted a video
of it on YouTube
, but did not provide any recent examples of Barr promoting vaccination.
|Comer’s Instagram post
Barr is 47. Rep. James Comer of the 1st District, who is 48, said earlier that he would delay getting vaccinated because he didn’t want to put himself ahead of constituents in his rural district, which he expected to have “logistical challenges” in vaccine distribution. On March 30, after Beshear opened vaccinations to anyone over 40, Comer posted a picture of his vaccination on Instagram, saying he was “glad to help America recover from Covid-19.”
Comer’s office didn’t provide any other examples of vaccine promotion, other than a March 21 CNN interview
on several topics, in which he was asked if he would recommend to his constituents that they be vaccinated, he said “Absolutely. I don’t think the government should mandate it, but I do think that everyone should get vaccinated.”
Fifth District Rep. Hal Rogers, 83, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. On Dec. 18, he issued a press release
saying that he had been vaccinated: “While many have reservations about the vaccine, I received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination today with confidence, knowing that this is the first step for America to beat this pandemic and revive our economy.”
Most health experts say a vaccination rate of 75 to 80 percent is needed to reach herd immunity, which provides some protection to people who are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated.
So far, 46% of Kentucky adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 30% have been fully vaccinated, according to
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention