Guess who undermined public confidence in vaccines?

“The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine, if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration, I think is unconscionable.” 

That was then-Vice President Mike Pence’s rebuke of his opponent, then-Sen. Kamala Harris, in the campaign’s stretch-run, when she was talking down Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s zealous initiative to push across the finish line the vaccines that pharmaceutical companies miraculously managed to produce by late 2020.

Harris had stated that any such effort pushed by then-President Trump was untrustworthy. This was consistent with the Biden campaign theme that the Trump administration had been incompetent in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic — a position that morphed, when President Biden took office, into a claim that the Trump team hadn’t even had a workable plan on vaccine distribution (a claim so patently false that even Anthony Fauci, director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, denied it). 

The vice presidential candidates’ debate was Harris’s highest-profile appearance of the campaign. She took the opportunity to explain that she would not get a vaccine pushed by Trump. That is what got the habitually placid Pence’s dander up. He turned to Harris and memorably admonished, “Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

This is a vignette worth keeping in the front of our minds as Biden cynically exploits his bully pulpit against Facebook. The president and his administration are endeavoring to shift blame to the social media giant for the predictable effects of their own demagoguery. 

The propagandist-in-chief inveighed against Facebook on Friday for “killing people” by spreading misinformation about the efficacy and potentially damaging side effects of the vaccines. The claim is nearly as shameful as Biden’s recent portrayal of state election-procedure reforms (e.g., curbs on drive-thru voting) as the reestablishment of Jim Crow and a threat to democracy on a par with “the Civil War.”

Biden’s attack on Facebook is reprehensible. Though he won’t be called on it by the Democratic media complex, these are outrageous lies comparable to what the president accuses his predecessor of routinely spewing. 

The administration is upset because, after his campaign discredited the vaccine effort, Biden over-promised what he could deliver once he took charge of it. He claimed that by Independence Day 70 percent of adult Americans would have received at least one dose of a vaccine. In fact, the Mayo Clinic put the July 4 count at about 55 percent. (It has inched up to 56 percent in the two weeks since, and just under half the eligible population has been fully vaccinated.)

Patently, this is not Facebook’s fault. Facebook is a social media platform with billions of users. As a matter of human inevitability, there will be some misinformation on it. That is the nature of speech in a large, pluralistic, free society. It is to be expected of a free-communications medium that is nudged by law to be minimalist in regulating the exchange of information and to avoid content discrimination. 

Even so, Facebook has been tireless in informing users about where and when vaccines are available, and in disseminating exhortations that Americans avail themselves of them. It also contends that 85 percent of U.S. Facebook users have been or want to be vaccinated. 

There is abundant reason to be skeptical about that claim — really, how would Facebook know? At the same time, it would not be surprising at all if Facebook, as a user community, does in fact have a higher vaccination rate than the nation as a whole on Biden’s watch. After all, none of Facebook’s principals cavalierly undermined the government’s vaccine effort for what they perceived to be a fleeting political advantage. It was Biden officials who did that.

Wholly apart from the cynical campaign rhetoric of Harris and other Democrats, there is the matter of behavior. Long after they were fully vaccinated, Biden and Harris persisted in donning masks at public appearances. Harris and her husband, who is also fully vaccinated, even kissed each other through masks for the consumption of media cameras.

Like the fanatical anti-vaxxers they revile, Biden & Co. were doing their part to politicize masks and vaccines, which is about as foolish as it gets in our deeply divided country. But plainly, Biden’s example is more consequential and it sends a powerful signal that undermines his vaccination message. 

If you want people to get vaccinated, you set up an incentive framework that imposes the burdens of the epidemic on the unvaccinated. Biden, by contrast, communicated that even after being vaccinated — the main attraction of which is to get back to normal life — Americans should continue to wear masks. 

The weird idea behind this was to protect the unvaccinated and avoid shaming them. Of course, the way to protect the unvaccinated was to promote the advantages of vaccination. Biden’s approach had ordinary people asking themselves: What is the point of being vaccinated if we are still to be under the yoke of mandates?

The question is all the more pressing because the vaccines are still approved only on an emergency basis, thanks to the supposedly untrustworthy Trump administration. The Biden administration, for all its bombast, hasn’t pushed through final approval. 

As a result, people who have not been vaccinated are not crazy to ask: Why should I submit to a vaccine whose effects are still being evaluated and whose final, formal approval is still pending, when there is statistically only a small chance that I will die or get seriously ill from COVID-19, and when getting vaccinated may not relieve me of the mandates? 

Don’t get me wrong. Like many Americans, my wife and I scoured the web looking for available vaccines when they were scarce. We got vaccinated as quickly as we could, and pushed our family to do likewise. I think everyone should get vaccinated, and the faster nearly all of us do, the better off we’ll all be.

But like most Americans, I also cherish living in a free republic, where the First Amendment prohibits the government from infringing our free speech rights by threats and actions. It is constitutionally offensive for the Biden administration to harass Facebook — and it would be even if Biden were honestly worried about misinformation on social media, rather than distracting attention from his administration’s unclean hands.

On that note, with the delta variant driving a surge of infections (overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated), Democratic-run Los Angeles County has just reimposed the mask mandate on its 10 million residents. Concurrently, the chairman of the Democratic-controlled New York City Assembly is proposing to impose an indoor mask mandate even on those who have been vaccinated — and even as the Big Apple struggles to recover, with tourism dying and businesses in peril, especially those that can’t hire help because of Democratic policies that pay people not to work.

If the president and Democrats want to understand their vaccine challenge, they might consider stepping away from social media apps and taking a look in the mirror.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at National Review Institute, a contributing editor at National Review and a Fox News contributor. His latest book is “Ball of Collusion.” Follow him on Twitter @AndrewCMcCarthy.

Tags Anthony Fauci Anti-vaxxers COVID-19 pandemic Democrats Donald Trump Joe Biden Mike Pence Vaccine hesitancy

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