Donald Trump clearly wants the recent successes of Covid-19 vaccines to be recognized by American companies. “I invented vaccines that people didn’t think they had for five years,” he said. said on Fox News on Sunday. He now seems to be taking credit not only for his administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which injected billions into the vaccine development process, but also for the vaccine formulations themselves.
With each exciting new development, Trump has taken the credit. When pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced promising results from its clinical trial on the Covid-19 vaccine with BioNTech, it said at a press conference that the success was “following Operation Warp Speed. “
Trump’s comments about the Pfizer vaccine weren’t entirely true. Pfizer has not received money from Warp Speed, the administration’s plan to catalyze vaccine development – at least as far as research and development goes: the US government agreed to buy 100 million doses of Pfizer vaccine if approved. The government gave money to Warp Speed in Moderna, whose vaccine also appears to be extremely effective. Even in Moderna’s case, it certainly wasn’t Trump who catalyzed the research and development of the technology.
But you know what? Let Trump take credit for these vaccines.
And not because he was a true champion of science, of scientists or of the regulatory process. Let him take the credit for it because it can serve a greater good: convincing his Republican supporters to trust and take the vaccine when it becomes widely available. This, in the end, could save many lives.
Many Americans are hesitant about a possible Covid-19 vaccine – Republicans more than Democrats
We may eventually have vaccines, but the question remains: will people take them?
Only 58 percent of respondents on a recent Gallup poll shown they would take the vaccine when it was first approved. This figure fell from a low of 50% in September. Before that, the desire to get the vaccine had waned throughout the summer.
Moreover, the polls may in fact underestimate the problem of mistrust. “When we look at seasonal influenza vaccination rates, for example, surveys always overestimate the number of people who get it,” Matt Motta, a political scientist at Oklahoma State University, told me. during the summer. It is much easier to tell an interviewer that you are going to get the vaccine than to get one.
According to Gallup, only 49% of Republicans say they would receive a vaccine once approved. (Democrats are more confident, at 69%, with their confidence on the rise.) Which means there is a chance for Trump to do good in his last days in office and after he leaves by continuing to claim his contribution to the vaccine process, thus inspiring some of his Republican supporters to take the vaccine.
To beat the virus, we will need a large proportion of people vaccinated across the country (at at least 50 percent or more), and this number should include people of all political persuasions.
Trump’s power to influence minds is real. Can he put it to good use?
Trump is largely responsible for the reluctance to take the Covid-19 vaccine for many reasons: for example, his constant attacks on scientists and his innuendoes that career officials in the Food and Drug Administration played politics with it. vaccine approval.
But he has an incredible power to change the opinions, almost overnight, of his supporters. My colleague Dylan Matthews has documented sudden shifts in opinion on topics like Russia and Vladimir Putin, free trade, and support for the news media’s watchdog role. Or consider how Trump sparked Republicans’ hostility to the NFL after calling on the league to fire players who knelt in protest during the national anthem.
Trump’s power to influence Republican minds has also been demonstrated experimentally, as I wrote in a 2018 article on the “follow the leader” effect in political science.
In January 2017, BYU political scientists Michael Barber and Jeremy Pope designed an experiment who wondered: Are Trump’s supporters ideological or will they follow him wherever his political whims go? Right after Trump’s inauguration, they conducted an online experiment with 1,300 Republicans.
The study was fairly straightforward. Participants were asked to rate whether they supported or opposed policies like a higher minimum wage, the nuclear deal with Iran, restrictions on access to abortion, background checks for gun owners, etc. These are the types of issues on which conservatives and liberals tend to be strongly divided.
Barber and Pope wondered: Would Republicans be more likely to approve of a liberal policy if they were told that Trump supported it?
The answer: “On average, out of all the questions we asked, when presented with liberal policy, Republicans became about 15 percentage points more likely to support that liberal policy” when they were told that Trump was supporting her, Pope said. They follow their leader. “The conclusion we have to draw is that the public, the average Republican sitting over there in America, is not going to stop Trump from doing what he wants.
The effect was even true on immigration issues. If Trump supported a lax immigration policy, his supporters were more likely to say they did too. (They also reproduced these results with new responses, later under the Trump presidency, although these new findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
I recently contacted Barber and Pope and asked them: Do they think Trump has the power to influence the minds of the GOP to take the vaccine? “Trump’s best move from a public health standpoint would be to take credit for any vaccine that emerges – making Republican voters trust the vaccine more,” Barber said in an email.
Not only would this help encourage more people to get vaccinated overall, but Trump’s supporters getting vaccinated could be particularly helpful in stopping the pandemic.
Trump supporters are less likely adopting behaviors that help stop the spread of the virus, such as wearing a mask, which will still be needed for some time even though there is an approved vaccine, and have more strongly opposed home prescriptions. If they still feel loyal to Trump in 2021 after he leaves, they could be a big part of the solution when it comes to the vaccine.
However, the approval of a Trump vaccine could have other consequences: If Trump supports any approved vaccines, would Democratic voters be less likely to get it? Yes, Trump can change the mindsets of his own voters, and he can also change the mind of his opposition, in the opposite direction: The recent decline in Democrats’ confidence in a potential vaccine may be linked to Trump’s rhetoric.
“You’re right to worry about the drop in trust between Democrats, but I think it could be mitigated if scientists also supported the vaccine – people like [Dr. Anthony] Fauci and other members of the FDA / CDC, ”says Barber.
Trump can’t solve vaccine reluctance on his own
Of course, the fact that Trump inspires his supporters to take the vaccine does not solve the general problem of reluctance. Surveys have also found higher rates of hesitation among women and black Americans, groups generally less likely to listen to Trump.
It’s not just that people are afraid that science will rush or that the administration will make politics with the approval process; as i reported in august, people are also worried about cost and access.
The lesson here isn’t that Trump can fix this giant mess he created. This is because all those in power who have an influence on public opinion should encourage their followers to be vaccinated if it is deemed safe and effective by the scientific community. The message needs to be clearer and more consistent because the two most promising vaccines – the Moderna vaccine and the one from Pfizer – require two doses. People will need to be motivated to sign up not just for one shot, but for two.
There is so much about the United States’ response to the pandemic that has been botched. We failed in early testing and then didn’t scale it. We have failed in tracing contacts and in reopening many of our communities safely. But we haven’t screwed up a vaccination campaign yet.
There is still time to do it right. Trump approving a vaccine that has been shown to be safe and effective is a good start – even if it comes with a lot of undue boasting.