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Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is recalling his own experience getting polio as a child in a new ad encouraging Kentuckians to get vaccinated against Covid-19, as red states lag well behind the rest of the country in getting the life-saving jab.
In the ad, which began airing across 100 radio stations in the top Republican leader’s home state, he describes how "back then, it took decades for us to develop a vaccine,” whereas the Covid vaccine was created in less than a year, which he called "nothing short of a modern medical miracle."
"Every American should take advantage of this miracle and get vaccinated,” Mr McConnell said. “It’s the only way we’re going to defeat Covid.”
Like many conservative-leaning states, Kentucky has fewer people vaccinated than the national average of 57 per cent of Americans with at least one dose. In the state, that figure is just 51 per cent. Other conservative states like Alabama are even worse off: it has only 41 per cent partially vaccinated.
"I think this is awfully important that we continue to push more Americans vaccinated, and I represent Kentucky and I want to get that message to as many people as possible,” the minority leader told CNN.
The US has tens of million of excess doses of the vaccine, but groups including young adults, Black people, Hispanics, and particularly Republicans have been resistant to getting the jab.
Recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly a quarter of Republicans “definitely” won’t get the vaccine, the highest resistance rate of any group they polled. As a result, 17 of the 18 states that voted for Trump in 2020 have the lowest vaccination rates.
This, combined with the highly contagious Delta variant now making up a majority of Covid cases, has allowed new case numbers to creep up past a daily average of 70,000 in recent days, the highest level of any time since the holiday season.
The dire state of affairs has some prominent Republicans leaning harder on their constituents to get vaccinated.
“It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” Alabama governor Kay Ivey recently said. “I’ve done all I know how to do. I can encourage you to do something but I can’t make you take care of yourself.”
Others, like Alaska’s US Senator Lisa Murkowski, took a different take, sharing a video saying that unless people get vaccinated, we’ll all be stuck wearing masks for a long time.
Not all Republican leaders have been as proactive. Many haven’t said publicly whether they will get vaccinated. Donald Trump was vaccinated before leaving the White House, but chose to do it privately and only revealed the fact months after leaving office.
Some have gone even further than silence, actively casting doubt on the efficacy of vaccines, or framing public health measures like masks as equal to the oppression of Jews by the Nazis.
"The key here is to ensure that no one feels like they have to do it. They have to want to do it. So, insulting them or mandating them won’t work," conservative pollster Frank Luntz told Reuters. "Political messages won’t work, unless you’re Donald Trump. If Trump were to say to them: ‘Hey, get the vaccine.’ That would make a difference. But he doesn’t do that. All he does is complain about the election."
In a statement last week, Mr Trump said, "People are refusing to take the vaccine because they don’t trust (Biden’s) administration, they don’t trust the election results."