Commentary: Far Right Just Wants A Fight Over COVID, Not Facts

Greg LaRose, Louisiana Illuminator

Recent actions from the far right give proof that they have no interest in tackling the pressing concerns of our country – just the opposite in fact. What’s more important to them is earning meaningless merit badges from a dwindling flock of followers swayed more by unfounded fears than facts.

Take House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, for example. His position makes him the traffic cop for the narrow GOP majority in his chamber, which gives him the power to decide what bills come up for a vote. With that authority, you would think he would aim for low-hanging fruit for a strong start. There’s bipartisan support for more rigid oversight of social media, and there’s a chance to reach common ground on a long-term debt ceiling fix.

Instead, Scalise has chosen to play the pandemic hindsight game with a skewed lens. Rather than accept reality, he would rather lend credibility to conspiracy theories.

In a recent tweet, Scalise said his Republic colleagues would make a priority to “eliminate the authoritarian COVID vaccine mandate on health care workers.” In a statement Tuesday, he said “thousands of health care workers were forced to lose their jobs over that vaccine mandate.”

“That wasn’t even a law,” Scalise added in the statement. “It was a ruling that came out of (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). And so we are bringing forward his legislation to end that.”

What Scalise conveniently ignores in his statement is that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the CMS’ authority to issue the mandate in a January 2022 decision. Any attempt to frame the action as illegal is misleading. It also fails to acknowledge the efficacy of the vaccine, along with the fact that high refusal rates are behind the viral mutations and continued spread of COVID.

Furthermore, Scalise’s emphasis on the health care workers who opted against the vaccine overshadows any commendation he has offered to those who willingly and enthusiastically accepted the shots and remained on the front lines of the pandemic.

In so many words, the majority leader validates what the repeatedly invalid reasons medical personnel provide for refusing the vaccine.

An analysis published a year ago in the National Library for Medicine combined data from 51 studies conducted in 36 countries. The studies centered on vaccine refusal rates among nurses globally. The most frequent reasons they passed were: concerns about vaccine safety, side effects and efficacy; misinformation and lack of knowledge; and mistrust in experts, authorities or pharmaceutical companies – all similar to explanations from members of the general public who refused vaccines.

The overall refusal rate for nurses worldwide was 20%, according to the analysis. Another notable tidbit: Refusal rates decreased among nurses from the early days of vaccine availability to a year later, starting at 23.4% and dropping to 18.4%.

Flip these rates and it shows a vaccine acceptance rate around 80% among nurses, enough to achieve herd immunity if it were mirrored in the general public. Scalise has not made it a point to highlight this fact.

Other studies have explored how misinformation is disseminated and its effects on vaccine acceptance.

A Kaiser Family Foundation report from November 2021 evaluated data from survey respondents who were asked whether they believed common falsehoods about COVID-19. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of unvaccinated adults believed or were unsure about at least half of the eight false statements in the survey. That was more than three times the share of vaccinated adults (19%).

Interestingly, most respondents who said they trust COVID-19 information from leading conservative news sources were the most likely to believe misinformation. Those who trust Fox News (36%), One America News (37%), and Newsmax (46%) were the most likely to say they believed or were unsure about at least half of the eight false statements.

Scalise and other conservatives in Congress are pushing for an end to the state of emergency that continues to allow government employees to work from home, leaving many agencies inadequately staffed as more people are willing to do business in person.

It’s a reasonable discussion to have based on what science tells us about where things stand with the pandemic and the ever-changing virus, and how we’ve learned how to work more safely over the past three years. But these conversations won’t be productive as long as the participants are more interested in taking political potshots than actual progress.

Republicans have introduced the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems Act, or SHOW UP for short. The name alone conveys that its proponents aren’t interested in a constructive dialogue and haven’t paid attention as employers have benefited from the upside of offering remote workplace flexibility.

This trend was in motion well before COVID-19, and the federal government will find itself struggling to attract qualified employees if its policies don’t change with the times.

Ultimately, that’s the challenge for Scalise and other like-minded conservatives. They can stay mired in the misinformation of yesterday or accept a fact-driven future.

It feels like a pretty easy choice.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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