In the United States, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. There are about 40,000 new confirmed COVID-19 infections each day, "down more than 40% from less than a month ago and just one-fifth of what the nation was facing at the start of the year." Deaths have also dropped rapidly, with less than 700 per day on average — down from a peak of more than 3300 in January.
The progress is largely due to a widespread vaccination campaign. According to CDC data, there have been about 262 million vaccine doses administered in the United States. Among adults 18 and older, 58% have received at least one dose, and 44% are fully vaccinated.
But the virus is still spreading and hundreds of people are dying every day. To truly get the virus under control many more people need to get vaccinated. There are signs that this could be difficult. CDC data shows "the pace of first-dose vaccinations in the United States has fallen 60% in just the last month." This week "states want the federal government to withhold staggering amounts of vaccine...amid plummeting demand for shots."
One person making things more difficult is Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is spreading dangerous misinformation about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
In a radio interview last Thursday, Johnson misleadingly claimed that thousands of people had died shortly after taking the vaccine. "We are over 3,000 deaths within 30 days of getting the vaccine. About 40% of those occur on day zero, one or two," Johnson said. But Johnson was citing data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). That database is "not an official, vetted report of vaccine-related incidents" and contains "information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable."
Indeed, anyone "with an internet connection" can submit a report. As a result, the VAERS system has been weaponized by "conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination activists who use the numbers found there to spread misinformation about vaccines." Johnson has not apologized or corrected the record. Instead, Johnson's spokesperson claimed he was "not suggesting the deaths were directly caused by the covid-19 vaccine."
Johnson spreading misinformation about COVID vaccines is part of a pattern of behavior. On the same radio interview last Thursday, Johnson claimed he was "talking to doctors" who were "concerned about vaccinating people who've already had Covid" because it could cause the immune system to overreact. Johnson himself has said he does not need a vaccine because he previously contracted COVID.
I mean having the disease, I’ve always felt, was better than a vaccine because you’ve actually had the disease. You’ve developed the antibodies, you ought to have some pretty good immunity. Why would you be pushing people that have already had the disease, why would you push the vaccine on them?
There is no evidence to support Johnson's claims and the CDC recommends people who have contracted COVID get vaccinated.
Last month, Johnson appeared on a podcast hosted by RFK Jr., the nation's most prominent conspiracy theorist. During the interview, Johnson complained that he was criticized for inviting "an anti-vaccine activist to testify in front of a Senate panel."
On April 23, Johnson told radio host Vicki McKenna that distribution of the vaccine should be limited "to the really vulnerable."
Because it's not a fully approved vaccine, I think we probably should have limited the distribution to it to the really vulnerable. What is the point? If the science tells us the vaccines are 95 percent effective. So, if you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?
What is it to you? You have got a vaccine, and science is telling you it's very, very effective. So, why is this big push to make sure everybody gets a vaccine?
Last Sunday on Fox News, Johnson criticized the "indiscriminate vaccination of everybody."
Regardless of your personal risk, the spread of the virus creates mutations that could be more dangerous. Further, getting vaccinated prevents the spread and also protects people, including children, who are not yet able to be vaccinated.
Vaccine misinformation by prominent Republicans like Johnson appears to be having an impact. 36% of Republicans — and 46% of Republican men — say they will not choose to be vaccinated, according to a recent NPR/Maris poll.
But despite Johnson's reckless actions that could needlessly extend a pandemic that has already killed more than 575,000 Americans, his reelection campaign continues to enjoy the support of major corporations.
The corporations supporting Ron Johnson's reelection campaign
Johnson's term expires in 2022. The following corporations are supporting his reelection:
Popular Information contacted these companies and asked if they planned on continuing to support Johnson's reelection in light of his role in spreading vaccine misinformation. Wells Fargo responded that the company had "paused contributions to all lawmakers and is currently reviewing its strategy." The other companies did not respond.
Johnson follows Tucker Carlson's lead
Johnson is just following the lead of the most prominent source of vaccine misinformation: Tucker Carlson. It was Carlson who, days before Johnson, first misused the VAERS database. On May 5, Carlson said:
Between late December of 2020 and last month, a total of 3,362 people apparently died after getting the COVID vaccine in the United States — 3,362. That’s an average of roughly 30 people every day. The actual number is almost certainly higher than that, perhaps vastly higher than that. It’s clear that what is happening now, for whatever reason, is not even close to normal.
Carlson's claim was rated "False" by Politifact. A few weeks earlier, Carlson suggested that vaccines might not work at all.
If the vaccine is effective, there is no reason for people who've received a vaccine to wear masks or avoid physical contact. So maybe it doesn't work, and they're simply not telling you that. Well, you'd hate to think that, especially if you've gotten two shots. But what's the other potential explanation? We can't think of one.