Only Trump can fix vaccine hesitancy among his supporters

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I alone can fix it,” declared Donald Trump in 2016, as he received the Republican Party’s nomination for president.

Now, five years later, the United States faces a huge crisis that, in our view, only former President Trump can fix: Namely, the reluctance of large numbers of his supporters to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99.5 percent of Americans who have died from COVID-19 during the last six months were unvaccinated. In addition, more than 97 percent of current hospitalizations that involve the highly contagious delta variant, today’s predominant strain, are being experienced by people who have not received shots. Thus, vaccinating substantial numbers of the unvaccinated would almost certainly save tens of thousands of lives in terms both of preventing new infections in the near future and in protecting all Americans vaccinated and unvaccinated against the prospective spread of more lethal covid variants.  

Consequently, the key question would seem to be how to get the unvaccinated to change their minds.

A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that only 49 percent of Republicans as opposed to 93 percent of Democrats have been either vaccinated or say that they plan to be, so the most urgent need would clearly rest with those on the Republican side of the political divide. And who would be more likely to convince reluctant Republicans than Trump?

Yet, in March, Donald and Melania Trump were excluded when the Ad Council produced a series of public service advertisements by former presidents and first ladies, including the Carters, Clintons, Bushes and Obamas. While the Ad Council is not part of the U.S. Government, these ads unquestionably had at least semi-official status. Undoubtedly, if the Biden administration had pushed for the inclusion of the Trumps, they almost certainly would not have been left out.  

And in March about the same time the presidential ads started to appear, President Biden was asked by a reporter if he thought Trump should be enlisted to help promote vaccination. The president responded, “I discussed it with my team and they say the thing that has more impact than anything Trump would say to the MAGA folks is what the local doctors, what the local preachers, what the local people in the community say.”

In our view, having such people speak out in support of vaccination is a useful but not sufficient strategy. As other events and numerous polls have shown, Trump retains great influence with people who voted for him. It would almost certainly have a huge impact and help make America great again, if he were to urge his supporters and everyone else in the country to be vaccinated. He might point out that he himself had been vaccinated with no negative results, and he might even display a photo or a video clip of his vaccination. He could also stress that he played a key role in developing the vaccines and relate how his foresight in making this happen resulted in the safe arrival of effective vaccines in record time.     

Unquestionably, the likelihood of Trump making such a statement or launching his own campaign would be increased if it were preceded by a public statement or even a phone call from Biden praising Trump for his catalytic role and saying that the Biden administration stands with Trump in urging all Americans to be vaccinated as soon as possible.  

The two of us have spent our professional lives trying to resolve conflict, and we can say unequivocally that giving people credit for what they have accomplished particularly when they deserve it is one of the best ways of inducing them to act.

The scenario we propose would be above partisan politics. Certainly, it would disturb some people who do not want to give Trump credit for anything, but, after all, he was a prime mover behind development of the vaccines. It might also unsettle those who question the legitimacy of the Biden presidency.

The key issue here should not involve replaying personal or political differences.  What is crucial is getting vaccines into the arms of the unvaccinated. 

John Marks was the founder and long-time president of Search for Common Ground, the world’s largest non-profit, conflict resolution organization. Susan Collin Marks was vice president of Search for Common Ground.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Joe Biden Melania Trump Presidency of Joe Biden Right-wing populism in the United States Trump administration communication during the COVID-19 pandemic trumpism United States responses to the COVID-19 pandemic Vaccination Vaccine hesitancy

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