Ron Johnson: What's up with this big push to get everyone vaccinated?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

What happened to this guy? When was the precise moment he turned from Ron Johnson, successful businessman and tea-party senator, into the crank known as “RonAnon”?

You can be pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine but we must be down to something like three people nationwide who don’t understand why the vaccines are being “pushed” on holdouts. See, there’s something called “herd immunity” in which, if a large enough share of the entire population is immunized then the virus can’t spread efficiently anymore, even to unimmunized people. Every potential infection that doesn’t happen due to herd immunity is a potentially debilitating illness or death that’s averted, a fate from which not even vaccinated people are perfectly safe. And herd immunity means that immunocompromised people, of which there are millions, can finally reemerge from house arrest and began to enjoy a modicum of normal life again.

Most importantly, the fewer people who are infected, the fewer opportunities the virus has to mutate into a variant that might be able to reliably break through the immunity provided by vaccination. If we end up with half the country vaxxed and half unvaxxed, the latter group could end up producing a strain of coronavirus that ultimately burns through the former, sending us all back to the drawing board.

Ron Johnson appears to be one of those three people left who doesn’t grasp that.

In an interview with conservative Wisconsin radio host Vicki McKenna, herself a vocal coronavirus vaccine skeptic, Johnson launched into a condemnation of “vaccine passports,” a credential that would allow businesses to verify vaccination status.

But Johnson also went a step further, declaring he sees “no reason to be pushing vaccines on people,” arguing their distribution should be “limited” to those most vulnerable to coronavirus, and asking, “if you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?”

Johnson said he is “getting highly suspicious” of the “big push to make sure everybody gets the vaccine,” stating it’s “not a fully approved vaccine” but also arguing that the fact it is 95% effective means only a limited number of people need to be vaccinated.

That’s populist contrarianism strained to the point of nihilism. Johnson knows why it’s important to maximize the number of people who get vaccinated, he’d just rather pander to righty vax-skeptics by grousing about the pressure campaign to get them to take the jab. When you can’t complain about your freedoms being infringed — the vaccine remains voluntary, after all — you whine instead about being “pushed” to do something you don’t want to do. Even when you have every reason to understand the social benefits:

Fortunately, a righty populist who’s more popular and influential than Johnson has been much more responsible with his own vaccine comments lately:

“I’m all in favor of the vaccine,” Trump said Thursday. “It’s one of the great achievements, a true miracle, and not only for the United States. We’re saving tens of millions of lives throughout the world. We’re saving entire countries.”…

Speaking by telephone to Post columnist Michael Goodwin, Trump said he got his first shot before leaving the White House in January, and his second in Florida, where he now lives. Former First Lady Melania Trump also has been vaccinated, and neither had any adverse reactions…

“The vaccine is a great thing and people should take advantage of it” Trump said, before quickly adding that “nobody should be forced, we have our freedoms. But I strongly recommend it because it’s a real lifesaver.”

When he’s right, he’s right. Check out the trend in hospitalizations among senior citizens since January, when mass vaccination began ramping up:

Thanks to the early priority given to seniors in getting vaccinated and the widespread willingness within that population to do so (more than 80 percent have had at least one shot), the rate of hospitalizations among those 65 and older may soon drop below the rate among the next-youngest group. That said, I wrote on Wednesday about an outbreak at a nursing home in Kentucky in which one fully vaccinated resident died — an outbreak that’s believed to have been triggered by an unvaccinated person bringing a variant into the home. That’s the counter to Johnson’s point about “limiting” the vaccine to the most vulnerable people. Sometimes even a vulnerable person who’s been immunized can’t fight off an infection. The way to save them is to prevent the virus from reaching them in the first place by getting everyone vaxxed.

Here’s Joe Scarborough giving credit where credit is due yesterday, which may have been his way of nudging the rest of the media to start playing up Trump’s role in helping to deliver America out of the pandemic. An AP story today warns ominously of vaccine demand falling off sharply enough in parts of red states like Kansas and Mississippi that local officials are no longer asking for doses from the state. They already have a glut of unused vaccine; no sense in stockpiling it when it’s needed elsewhere. “All of the strong Christians that I associate with are against it,” said one mom in Mississippi of vaccination. “Fear is what drives people to get the vaccine — plain and simple. The stronger someone’s trust is in the Lord, the least likely they are to want the vaccine or feel that it’s necessary.” Maybe Trump’s endorsement can help at the margins with people like her. But probably only at the margins.