For months, Fox News has repeatedly undermined the country's vaccination effort and turned it into a culture war issue. Now, Fox personalities are scapegoating Biden administration policies, mask guidance, and pushback against misinformation as reasons for vaccine hesitancy in the country.
In reality, research shows that conservatives are far more hesitant to get vaccinated than other Americans, and the more-transmissible Delta variant is now the predominant COVID-19 strain in the country. While some Fox hosts have recently urged their viewers to take the threat seriously, vaccine ambivalence still surrounds the network's coverage. According to a Media Matters study, Fox News undermined vaccination efforts in 60% of its vaccine-related segments from June 28 through July 11.
Fox News is pushing the narrative that people don’t trust vaccines because of alarm over ;the Biden administration’s attempt to crack down on misinformation and because President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris initially expressed caution over a vaccine produced under the Trump administration that did not yet have approval from medical authorities. Fox News is also claiming that prominent liberals wearing masks after getting vaccinated undermines the case for vaccine efficacy and is leading to increased hesitancy.
In the September before the 2020 election, then-nominee Harris told CNN’s Dana Bash, “I would not trust Donald Trump and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about. … I will not take his word for it.” Now, conservatives on Fox are painting her words as a reason for vaccination hesitancy.
- Fox’s Dagen McDowell blamed Biden and Harris for vaccine hesitancy on July 9, saying, “Let's start with Kamala Harris and her fearmongering about the vaccine in the kind of anti-vax science denier last year, talking about the Trump vaccine. Joe Biden did it. Andy Cuomo did it. So if they're talking about people not getting vaccinated, it is on the Biden administration’s shoulders, because it started last year.”
- Former White House press secretary and current Outnumbered co-host Kayleigh McEnany framed her question to Fox contributor Leslie Marshall by shifting the blame for vaccine hesitancy to "Kamala Harris saying don't trust Trump’s vaccine and Trump’s part of the vaccine, and Biden ... saying don't trust Trump on the vaccine. They said it for political purposes last election. Does that have any part in hesitancy that we are seeing today?” Marshall replied, “Absolutely not.” The rest of the panel backed McEnany’s opinion.
- While talking to former Surgeon General Jerome Adams, America Reports co-anchor John Roberts placed blame on Harris, saying, “There is a lot of vaccine hesitancy in the United States. Democrats are blaming Republicans for that, but if you rewind the clock, it was Democrats who were casting doubt on the vaccine and whether or not they would even take it.” Roberts then asked Adams, “Did the initial message that she would not take the vaccine because it came from the Trump administration cause some of the current vaccine hesitancy?”
Fox has also railed against Biden for wearing a mask after he got his vaccine. Now, network figures are pointing to the president and other Democrats who have continued to wear masks and social distance out of caution as a source of vaccine hesitancy.
- Fox News host Sean Hannity said on his July 9 radio show: “Where is the vaccine hesitancy coming from? Democrats like Joe Biden, fully vaccinated, socially distant, outside with Jill Biden, fully vaccinated, socially distant, let’s go visit former President Carter and his wife, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, and then while we are close to them, we’ll take off our masks indoors, OK. Tell me if any of that makes any sense.”
- Fox News contributor Joe Concha also blamed Biden for vaccine hesitancy, saying, “It appears the president doesn't understand how much vaccine hesitancy he created by wearing masks for months after being vaccinated.”
- Fox News contributor Nicole Saphier suggested that mask and vaccine mandates are causing hesitancy: “We have to stop with the fearmongering, and if you keep telling people to wear masks after they are vaccinated and while transmission is low, people are not going to go and get vaccinated.”
- Fox & Friends reporter Lawrence Jones said the Los Angeles mask mandate is misinformation and will cause vaccine hesitancy since it goes against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s position that if you have been vaccinated, a mask is not necessary: “They keep asking the question why people won't get vaccinated -- the people that haven’t, we have all gotten vaccinated. But some people have resistance. It's because of information like this. When you put out disinformation and people are saying why get the vaccination? We are not going to return to normal anyway? What's the use of doing it? Why?”
- On Fox's Special Report, Fox contributor Ben Domenech partly blamed “the potential for mask mandates to come back” as a reason for vaccine hesitancy: “Why even go through this experimental treatment and the like if it's not going to result in any change in the way that I'm allowed to live?"
Recently, Biden accused Facebook of “killing people” due to anti-vax misinformation that spreads on the site. Administration officials have published tactics on how to combat this type of misinformation and started a door-to-door vaccine education campaign. Some on Fox News have blamed efforts to push back on vaccine misinformation for inspiring panic and causing vaccine hesitancy, while others have said the Biden administration has not done enough to dissuade fears.
- Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade blamed the government for not doing enough to talk about breakthrough COVID-19 cases among vaccinated people, saying, “If you want people to trust the actual vaccination you would say that the symptoms are milder but they do break through. But instead they want to just blame Facebook or other outlets because of that.”
- Fox News guest Dr. Devi Nampiaparampil suggested that “our leaders” are not being transparent enough, which is causing vaccine hesitancy among young people: “Rather than relying on pop stars and other folks to spread the message, you know, we should also have our leaders promote that transparency so that it will be easier for people to come forward and kind of overcome this hesitation and know what to do.”
- Fox News host Laura Ingraham responded to the Biden administration’s push to stop vaccine disinformation by saying, “I think they are killing the push for the vaccine with these types of heavy-handed tactics. I think it's making people more skeptical, not less.”
- Fox News contributor Charles Hurt blamed crackdowns on misinformation as part of the problem, saying, “This idea that we're not allowed to say things, we're not allowed to ask questions, that is probably undermining that effort to get those last people vaccinated.”
- New York Post columnist Miranda Devine accused Biden chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci "and liberals in the media” of causing vaccine hesitancy: “Maybe there does need to be some sort of, you know, extra education to help people to understand, to trust. But, you don't go out and get people to vaccinate by abusing them.”