Biden’s latest Covid challenge: Making the fight against the pandemic apolitical

On Tuesday, the president took his final step in that task by hosting an event in which he tried to convince voters that vaccines essential to fulfilling his promise to lead the nation out of a pandemic situation have no direction. Politics.

“As we enter this new moment in the battle against Covid, let us use it to start afresh as a country, to put all the old battles against Covid behind us,” he said, pleading with Americans to search for the latest set of reminders. . “None of this is about politics. Your health and that of your loved ones is at stake. »

The dovish approach — which came as Biden himself received an updated vaccine — reflects a broader effort underway within the White House to tone down emotions and rhetoric around the vaccine campaign. It comes amid growing concerns that the politicization of vaccines is hampering both Democrats’ medium-term chances and the success of the government’s public health effort.

Just 7% of Americans have received the booster in the nearly two months since it was rolled out, with surveys showing Republicans are much more likely to reject the vaccine. Prominent GOP pundits and public officials have effectively stoked skepticism about the shootings, equating opposition to the pandemic response to opposition to Biden.

But it’s not just Republican policy that the White House is seeking to change. Even among those receptive to the government’s approach, there remains little political enthusiasm to fight Covid with aggressive measures or government intervention. Most voters say they moved on a long time ago.

Biden himself declared the end of the pandemic during an interview with « 60 Minutes » – a statement his team quickly sought to clarify as not being official doctrine. And as White House aides planned the midterm race, two people familiar with the matter said some in the building were wondering aloud if there was any significant political benefit to the president speaking. of the pandemic.

« The Covid is not popular, » said one of those close to the case, summing up the skepticism of certain corners of the administration.

Top White House advisers, including Chief of Staff Ron Klain, have argued that fighting Covid is critical to Biden’s success and must remain a top political and public health priority — and health officials have done so. arguing for Biden’s on-camera call for everyone to « get shot. » as soon as they can” was a key part of raising awareness ahead of a winter season when Covid cases are expected to rise.

But Biden’s softer rhetoric underscores the balance the administration is trying to strike between building a sense of urgency around the vaccination campaign and trying not to deepen existing political divisions related to the shootings.

Gone are the mandate debates and orders for Republican governors to “stand aside” that were part of the administration’s earlier vaccination efforts.

Instead, Biden on Tuesday positioned the shootings as a personal choice aimed at protecting individuals and their immediate circles of friends and family.

“We made vaccines free and available,” he said. « Please use them and encourage your friends, relatives and neighbors to use them as well. »

The approach also represents a stark contrast to Biden’s attempt to assert his party’s political advantage on other health issues as he nears the midpoints. In remarks a day earlier to the Democratic National Committee, the president hammered Republicans on drug prices and health care costs, sometimes targeting individual lawmakers for criticism.

Biden recently pointed to the specter of GOP demands for Medicare cuts, betting it will prove an effective centerpiece of the Democrats’ closing message.

Yet the administration has found no similar benefit in battling Covid. GOP candidates who cast doubt on the vaccine or spread misinformation about it pay no apparent political price, Biden officials note with frustration. In a more ominous sign, they believe such anti-science rhetoric has increasingly become a way for some Republicans to bolster their support with conservative voters.

Last week, outside advisers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the Covid vaccine be added to the agency’s vaccination schedules for children and adults – kicking off days of false claims that the government was trying to require vaccinations for children in public schools.

Such terms are decided at the state and local levels, but several prominent Republicans — including Senate candidates Adam Laxalt in Nevada and Blake Masters in Arizona — have taken the opportunity to oppose the prospect of terms, with Masters to suggest there is « no evidence » that the vaccine protects young children.

« They’re playing grassroots and scoring political points, » said Leslie Dach, a former top Obama-era health care official and chairman of the Democratic-aligned group Protect Our Care. « These elected Republicans, they’re back to not wanting Biden to succeed and believing at best it will help them — and at worst it will help them. »

John Moore, a virologist at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medicine, said the explosion of vaccine-related misinformation in conservative-leaning media has effectively turned the decision to get vaccinated into a statement of party affiliation. .

« Politicization and polarization have killed people, » he said. « If you throw the vaccines away, people don’t take them and then they die – it’s a causal chain of events. »

There are few new signs that the sweeping Covid response that propelled Biden’s approval ratings to an all-time high in early 2021 is still paying dividends more than a year later.

Voter satisfaction with Biden’s handling of the pandemic has remained relatively stable since March. Democrats avoided the issue on the campaign trail, preferring to emphasize economic concerns and abortion rights that are far higher on voters’ priority lists.

And even after helping to develop and distribute an updated vaccine in just a few months, the administration saw little enthusiasm. About 20 million people have sought the vaccine so far.

« It’s disappointing, » Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territory Health Officials, said of the adoption so far. « We really didn’t see the level of turnout we were hoping for. »

Biden health officials are still hopeful the vaccination rate will increase, especially ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday when more people will visit older relatives. And they point out that, whatever the political dynamics, the administration has no choice but to continue the fight against Covid.

But some officials also acknowledge that previous fights with the GOP over vaccination mandates have led to division on top of vaccinations — and that after touting the pandemic response as a major success of Biden’s first presidency, the only way to preserve the progress of the administration at all levels. perhaps divorcing him in people’s minds from the president’s political fortune.

« There are still a lot of breakthroughs that can be made, » said a senior administration official. « We have to be careful not to just say, oh, they’re all antivax. »


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