Trump dumps on the booster shots

AP Photo/Jason Behnken

This is one of those soundbites where you wonder if it’s responsible to post it at all, even with critical commentary. Why amplify the message of a former president that might discourage his fans from getting vaccinated?

Because that’s who he’s aiming this at, after all. Any Republican who’s already had their shots is probably going to get boosted once they’re eligible no matter what Trump says. Risk-aversion drove them to get immunized in the first place, risk-aversion will drive them to get a third shot ahead of the expected ferocious winter wave of Delta.

It’s the MAGAs who have held out on getting their shots who’ll hear this and assimilate it into an argument that the vaccines are some sort of grift. It’s just Pharma trying to make a little extra cash. The shots don’t do anything.

No one knows why Trump says the things he does, especially in a case like this. He’s already recommended that people get vaccinated and he’s justly taken credit for the success of Operation Warp Speed. (In fact, he recommended it again elsewhere in this same interview.) There’s no reason to cast doubt on a booster — unless, like Ron DeSantis, he’s looking to hedge his bets with the base. DeSantis has also recommended vaccination but staunchly opposes vaccinate mandates, even for cruise ships miles out to sea. That’s his concession to anti-vax sentiment on the right. According to the Daily Beast, Trump is also worried about populists coming to view him as too much in favor of vaccination. So he’ll endorse the first two shots, but apparently two is where he draws the line.

According to four people who’ve independently spoken to Trump about a potential pro-vaccine campaign, the former president has shown little interest in tying his name to broader efforts to get people inoculated.

When asked why Trump hadn’t done more on vaccines, Stephen Moore—who previously advised Trump on economic and coronavirus-related policy—said he didn’t have a “good answer for that.”…

According to two of the sources who have spoken to Trump about this, he has occasionally referenced polling and other indicators—such as what he’s seen on TV—that show how the vaccines are unpopular with many of his supporters. This has left the impression with some of those close to Trump that he doesn’t want to push too hard on the subject, so as to not “piss off his base,” one of the two people said.

That’s a grim reminder that the hype about Trump being a pied piper who can get his fans to do anything is in fact hype to a great extent. Often Trumpers are the ones calling the tune and Republican politicians, Trump included, are forced to dance to it.

He was asked about boosters this morning because the CDC finally announced that it had authorized a third shot for all Americans beginning September 20, with each person advised to get it after eight months has elapsed from their second dose. Doing it that way means the priority scheme from this past winter will repeat: Doctors and nursing-home residents first, then all senior citizens, then everyone else. There’s little dispute among scientists that older, more frail people could do with a boost. There is a dispute over whether less elderly adults need one. For instance, a new CDC study out of New York showed practically no diminution in protection from hospitalization after Delta began circulating there:

Other studies show that the vaccines’ efficacy against infection does drop after awhile, but some scientists are unimpressed with that. Does it appear to be dropping because immunity really is waning or is that just an illusion? Maybe the fact that more vaccinated people are getting infected is a simple function of Americans socializing more in the post-vaccine era. Or maybe it’s a function of Delta producing a higher viral load, in which case boosters might not do much to improve efficacy. Meanwhile, some experts look at the number of vaccinated people who are getting sick after infection and shrug on the theory that, so long as they’re not landing in the ER, the vaccines are doing their job. Why should anyone care about millions of Americans potentially suffering the worst non-emergency illness of their lives?

“These data support giving additional doses of vaccine to highly immunocompromised persons and nursing home residents, not to the general public,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center and a former adviser on the pandemic to the administration…

“Feeling sick like a dog and laid up in bed, but not in the hospital with severe Covid, is not a good enough reason,” Dr. Gounder said. “We’ll be better protected by vaccinating the unvaccinated here and around the world.”

The administration’s emphasis on vaccines has undermined the importance of building other precautions into people’s lives in ways that are comfortable and sustainable, and on building capacity for testing, [Dr. Ellie Murray] and other experts said.

“This is part of why I think the administration’s focus on vaccines is so damaging to morale,” she added. “We probably won’t be going back to normal anytime soon.”

Trying to get back to normal by giving everyone boosters is “damaging to morale”? “I can’t think of a better example of elites being in a bubble detached from the rest of society than the attitude that people are just so *silly* and *naive* for wanting to get back to normal and/or will happily abide another year of sharply limiting in-person socialization,” Nate Silver tweeted with disgust when he read the excerpt above. As for the claim that keeping Americans from “feeling sick like a dog” isn’t important, I guarantee that that exact fear is holding back the economic recovery to some degree. The vaccinated are the most risk-averse cohort in the U.S. when it comes to COVID; they know they’re unlikely to end up hospitalized if they’re infected but no one wants to spend a week or two feeling “like death,” which is how Breitbart editor Brandon Darby described his recent breakthrough infection.

In fact, despite being vaccinated less than eight months ago and middle-aged, Darby was one of the unlucky vaccinated people to need ER care after getting COVID recently.

Look at it this way. If we don’t care about Americans getting sick like dogs from disease so long as they (typically) won’t need hospital care for it, why do we allow healthy non-elderly people to get flu shots?

I’d be more sympathetic to the idea that America’s existing supply of vaccines should go abroad rather than stay here if the logistics of that plan were made clearer. How many doses are sitting on pharmacy shelves right now and realistically can’t be collected for repackaging and shipment overseas? What sort of manufacturing strain are Pfizer and Moderna under? There’s a good epidemiological reason to send doses to other countries expeditiously: The more of the planet’s population we can vaccinate, the less likely it is that a killer variant will emerge somewhere. But the U.S. government also needs to prioritize the short-term health of Americans, and short-term we’re looking at another winter wave. The sooner we can get boosters into people here, the weaker that wave should be. After all, boosters make the recipient less likely to infect others, no? Many potential chains of transmission will be broken by administering third shots, which means some number of lives will be saved.

I still don’t quite understand asking people to wait eight months, though, unless there’s a supply issue. Many of us, like me, won’t be eligible until we’re already cresting on that winter wave. Better lie low and stay out of retail spaces until New Year’s, I guess. I’ll leave you with this guy, who’s already my dark-horse favorite for the 2024 GOP nomination. I’m sure he agrees with Trump that booster shots are a scam.