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Ron Johnson questions 'big push' to vaccinate 'everybody'

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonImmigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart GOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Rand Paul clashes with Fauci over coronavirus origins MORE (R-Wis.) in a Thursday podcast interview cast doubt on the importance of vaccinating the nation for COVID-19, saying he’s getting “highly suspicious” of the “big push to make sure everybody gets the vaccine.”

“The science tells us that vaccines are 95 percent effective, so if you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?” Johnson said during an appearance on “The Vicki McKenna Show.” He also asked “what’s the point” of striving to get “everybody” the COVID-19 shot.  

“Why is this big push to make sure everybody gets a vaccine, and it's to the point where you better impose it, you’re gonna shame people, you’re gonna force them to carry a card to prove that they’ve been vaccinated so they can just be in society,” he added. 

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Health experts have promoted vaccinations across the U.S. population in order to reach a point where COVID-19 does not spread as easily in communities, especially to vulnerable people. 

More than 40 percent of the adult population now has had at least one shot, with the nation nearing the 30 percent marker for being fully vaccinated. 

But the nation would need to be well above 70 percent to reach herd immunity, and the pace of daily vaccinations has slowed amid hesitancy to take the vaccine among some populations — particularly conservatives and Republicans. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Senate GOP take step toward infrastructure deal as other plans hit speed bumps Senate GOP to give Biden infrastructure counteroffer next week Masks shed at White House; McConnell: 'Free at last' MORE (Ky.) is among the Republicans who have urged people to get vaccinated, which is seen as the speediest way to completely reopen the country and get back to normal life. 

The remarks from Johnson questioning the need for vaccines could lead to move hesitancy to get vaccinated. 

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The liberal super PAC American Bridge 21st Century released a statement condemning Johnson’s remarks, saying he was discouraging his constituents from getting the vaccine. 

“Ron Johnson’s rhetoric is dangerously irresponsible and will prolong the pandemic by discouraging people from getting vaccinated,” spokesperson Zach Hudson said. “More people will get COVID and die due to Ron Johnson’s comments yesterday. He’s a disgrace and Wisconsin can’t get rid of him soon enough.”

In a statement to The Hill, Johnson said he "strongly" backed Operation Warp Speed and thinks the government's current role is "to help ensure transparency so that people have as much information as possible to make an informed decision for themselves."

"Everyone should have the right to gather information, consult with their doctor and decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated," the senator said.

"It is a legitimate question as to whether people at very low risk of suffering serious illness from COVID, particularly the young and healthy, should be encouraged to take a vaccine that is being administered under an Emergency Use Authorization — in other words, before it has been fully tested and fully approved," he added.

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The senator cited that he pushed for the "right to try" legislation that allows patients to have access to investigational drugs, saying, "a reasonable corollary to that is the right to choose or not to choose treatment."

Last month, Johnson said he had not decided whether to run for reelection but noted that retiring after his current term is “probably my preference now.” But former President TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE called on the Wisconsin senator to run for reelection

Johnson also denounced potential requirements for so-called vaccine passports that request people show proof they got vaccinated, saying the practice is “freedom robbing.” President BidenJoe BidenFauci says school should be open 'full blast' five days a week in the fall Overnight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart MORE’s administration has repeatedly said that the federal government will not mandate any vaccine passports.

The senator also suggested that the government “probably should have limited the distribution” of the vaccine to vulnerable populations, citing that the shots available aren’t “fully approved” by the Food and Drug Administration. 

The agency has issued emergency use authorizations for the vaccines after clinical trials due to the public health emergency caused by the pandemic. 

“To the very young, I see no reason to be pushing vaccines on people, and I certainly am going to vigorously resist any kind of government use or imposing of vaccine passports,” Johnson said.

Recent polls have indicated that hesitancy is particularly strong among Republicans, with a Quinnipiac University poll finding 45 percent of Republicans said they don’t plan to get vaccinated. 

Updated at 12:23 p.m.