Last week, we were completely charmed and emotionally moved by videos of frontline healthcare workers receiving the first round of COVID vaccines. This week, our emotions are a bit more mixed, as politicians — including some who downplayed or even denied the severity of the pandemic — are documenting their experiences getting vaccinated. And, by "mixed," we mean outraged.
On Sunday, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), shared a picture via Twitter of her vaccination. “Today, at the recommendation of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the first dose of the #COVID19 vaccine,” Ernst tweeted. “I encourage all Iowans and Americans to do the same when their time comes. Thanks to #OperationWarpSpeed and the tireless work of Americans across the country, we are one step closer to defeating this virus.” An interesting, infuriating sentiment coming from someone who once suggested frontline health care workers were lying about the number of people dying from COVID-19 for profit. “These health care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if Covid is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing,” Ernst said, as reported by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier in September, repeating a debunked conspiracy theory peddled by QAnon supporters. Iowa now ranks 28th in the world for COVID-related deaths. But hey, at least Ernst is inoculated.
Of course, Ernst is not the only GOP COVID-denier who can now boast of having received the vaccine. Hypocritical Bible-verse tweeter Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also shared a picture of the moment he received the vaccine. “I know I looked away from the needle,” the senator joked. Because, at a time when 8 million Americans have slipped into poverty and as many as 40 million Americans are facing the very real possibility of eviction, joking about how squeamish and sensitive you are is not at all tone-deaf. “And yes, I know I need a tan. But I am so confident that the #Covid19 vaccine is safe and effective that I decided to take it myself.” Ha. Ha.
Rubio complained just last month that the media was focusing too much on COVID-19, and has repeatedly downplayed the virus and was silent as the outgoing president mocked people for wearing masks. But now that he can jump in front of healthcare workers, teachers, the elderly, and others who are at risk of contracting and dying from COVID, he doesn’t seem to be all that upset about the media coverage of his early inoculation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also shared a photo of his vaccination, tweeting, “Thank God for nurses who help people in need and know how to use a needle. Thank God for those who produced these vaccines. If enough of us take it, we will get back to normal lives. Help is on the way.” Graham had little regard for those who needed help when he downplayed the virus, spread falsehoods about COVID-19 testing, praised Trump repeatedly for his mishandling of the virus, threatened the World Health Organization (WHO), and voted against the expansion of unemployment benefits.
If this makes you angry, you're not alone — and you're totally right to feel that way. The reason these hypocritical politicians are now receiving the vaccine is what’s known as “continuity of governance” — a principle that ensures the government can continue to function under dire and catastrophic circumstances. But GOP politicians seemed little if at all concerned about the government’s ability to function when they were attending super-spreader events sans masks or eschewing social distancing safety measures. This recklessness led to the infection of key politicians, White House staff, members of Trump’s cabinet, and the President of the United States himself. But did they care? No. Instead, Republican congressmen wore gas masks on the House floor in jest, joking about a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands and put millions out of work. So watching these same people jump to the front of the vaccination line is bearing witness to an abomination — a crime committed against the very people they are sworn to represent and protect.
Even if the reason these politicians are getting vaccinated now seems like a good one — to reassure the very public they made nervous about the safety of the vaccine in the first place — it's too little, too late. Over 318,000 Americans have died from the very virus they insisted was no more deadly than the common flu. Why should they get to redeem themselves now? Why should they get to protect themselves when they cost the lives of so many others? The truth is, they were cavalier because they knew they'd always have access to top-of-the-line health care if they became sick, and, when the time came, they'd be the first to receive a vaccine.
There have been over 17 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Yesterday, at least 1,422 people died from the virus. Instances of intimate partner violence are on the rise, as are the number of deaths by suicide, cases of alcohol and substance abuse, and overdoses. Women are being pushed out of the workforce in record numbers, and the mental health of all Americans is deteriorating. Hospitals have hit their ICU capacities, doctors and nurses are overworked and overwhelmed, and still there are ER doctors waiting to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the people who are directly responsible for politicising a deadly virus are publicly sharing their inoculations, with little regard for the lives they’ve put in danger. As “God” wrote via Twitter, perhaps we need a new commandment: “Thou shalt not mock the plague as a hoax for a year and then be the first in line to get the vaccine whilst tossing $600 at the peasants and then continue to pretend you’re a ‘good Christian.’”