Tucker Carlson may be gone from Fox News, but his former colleagues are still carrying on his war against the COVID-19 vaccines that have prevented millions of American deaths since they became widely available in 2021.
Fox’s propagandists responded to President Joe Biden’s Friday call for new funding for an updated vaccine booster that will be recommended for all Americans when it becomes available this fall by warning that COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous and ineffective. Some even directly exhorted their viewers — generally seniors who are most vulnerable from COVID-19 — not to take the new booster.
“There's another shot that he's going to recommend all Americans take?” Jesse Watters, Carlson’s 8 p.m. replacement, asked Monday on Fox’s panel show, The Five. “This is another huge scam and no one is going to go along with another shot, especially if it's mandated.”
With COVID-19 cases on the upswing, Biden said Friday that he plans to ask Congress “for additional funding for a new vaccine” he would “tentatively” recommend “that everybody get.” The updated vaccine is expected in mid-September, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during her Monday briefing.
Fox hosts responded with ridicule and fury. Notably, several suggested that because the initial vaccines provided limited protection from infection from newer variants (even as they continued to provide strong protection from death or serious illness), people should be skeptical of the effectiveness of an updated shot specifically targeted to current strains. That’s a recipe for Fox’s viewers to once again put their health in danger by declining the shots.
Sean Hannity once garnered unearned credit from mainstream reporters over a tepid snippet about the vaccines. But since coming under fire from right-wing rivals and walking back even those remarks, he’s rarely missed an opportunity to demonstrate his vaccine skepticism.
“Straight ahead, COVID madness coming back,” he said, teasing a Monday night segment. “More draconian measures and a new vaccine that I'm sure they're going to tell you is absolutely safe. Like the last one? Straight ahead.”
After the break, he introduced Biden’s comments by saying, “Here we go again,” then asked Fox contributor Tomi Lahren, “Isn't this the same Joe Biden, same government that said that if you got the vaccine, that you'd never get COVID, you'd never transmit COVID and that were proven dead wrong? Isn't that the same government?”
Lahren replied that “if the Biden administration and leftists everywhere were that concerned about a new COVID strain, a new COVID variant, that southern border would be closed,” adding, “If the American people are ever dumb enough to fall for this again, we deserved to fail as a country. But I don't believe we are dumb enough to fall for it again. Not this time.”
Hannity went on to say that while he was not giving “medical advice,” he was “not listening to them” about the vaccines because “I don't believe a word they say. They've been proven wrong again and again and again.”
Likewise, while guest-hosting Fox’s prime-time “comedy” show Gutfeld!, Jimmy Faila argued that Biden’s call for a new shot was unnecessary because “unlike the Clintons, the virus wasn’t nearly as dangerous as we were told.”
“Now, I'll admit it's nice to see this White House making news for a drug besides cocaine,” Faila said. “But there's no need to discuss any drugs because the vaccines didn't stop transmission.”
Faila went on to express confusion about why politicians would say COVID-19 “would have been way worse” if they hadn’t been vaccinated, adding, “Like, you're saying it didn't work, OK? The government was wrong about every single thing they pushed on us during COVID, especially mask mandates, lockdowns, and vaccines.”
Fox could have responded to the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, which were developed under then-President Donald Trump and are remarkably effective in preventing serious COVID-19 cases (with rare side effects), by urging viewers to get the shots. But the network instead ran a multiyear campaign against the vaccines while relentlessly hyping ineffective drugs popular among right-wing influencers. Any moral responsibility its hosts felt for their audience was apparently overrun by their reflexive opposition to Biden and their recognition that antivax commentary was “great for ratings.”
These attacks on the vaccination campaign had deadly consequences. Polls routinely show the network’s viewers were less likely to say they were, or planned to get, vaccinated than people who get their news from other sources. One recent study found that “excess mortality was significantly higher for Republican voters than Democratic voters after COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults, but not before."
But Fox is undeterred by the destructive impact of its vaccine coverage. The network is doing its best to inflame viewers as its extremist competitors baselessly fearmonger over the prospect of “new lockdowns” ahead of the 2024 election. And that means more of them are going to die.