In retrospect, last year America would have been wise to have ignored Donald Trump’s words about the coronavirus, as these words and the administration’s subsequent incompetent response resulted in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary lost lives. But we shouldn’t ignore Trump’s actions regarding his personal response to COVID-19, as his actions carry lessons that all Americans should bear in mind.
Last spring, Trump pooh poohed the danger of the coronavirus, calling it no more dangerous than the common flu, mocked mask-wearing and reassured us that it would magically one day, just disappear. Those words were lies and foolish.
Seemingly unaware of the public health consequences, his flood of disinformation, amplified by right-wing media, was designed with the sole intention of reviving the economy so that Trump could reap the political benefit that a robust economy would give him on election day.
But the truth about the coronavirus, which Trump hid, tells a different story. On Jan. 28, 2020, Trump was told by his national security team that this virus posed the most formidable national security of his presidency and had the potential to rival the influenza pandemic of 1918, which killed 675,000 Americans and 20 to 50 million human beings. As Trump explained to Bob Woodward in early February, the coronavirus is “more deadly than even your strenuous flus. This is deadly stuff.”
When Trump contracted COVID-19 in early October 2020, he didn’t convalesce at home, and fight it out with the measly “flu” bug. No. He checked into Walter Reed Army Medical Center and got a special antibody cocktail unavailable to the general public.
Then, despite being infected and presumably mounting an immune response to COVID-19, Trump didn’t take any chances with his own health. No, in January, 2021, he quietly, without fanfare, got vaccinated so as to give himself the best odds of not getting COVID-19 again, and possibly dying from it. These actions reveal a man who both privately acknowledges the health risk of COVID-19 and one who will avail himself of all that the field of medicine can provide to protect himself from it.
Unfortunately, many of his followers failed to get this part of the message. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last month found that 28 percent of Republicans said they would “definitely not” get vaccinated, and another 18 percent said they would “wait and see” before getting a shot. Having bought into Trump’s sea of disinformation, these unwitting citizens are for a variety of reasons saying they won’t do what the former President knows is best and has done himself.
One could disingenuously argue that, just like smoking, although it is bad for the smokers’ health, it’s their life, and if they want to smoke, so be it. But this would be wrong. Unlike smoking, which damages the lungs, and frequently kills the smoker (for now, ignore the dangers of second-hand smoke) not getting vaccinated also puts all our fellow citizens at risk. That’s because in order to stop the coronavirus, we need herd immunity.
Herd immunity refers to a population’s resistance to infection either from immunity acquired from national infection and recovery, or from vaccination. The exact threshold to reach herd immunity for the coronavirus is unknown, but recent estimates range from 70 percent to 90 percent.
If we fail to reach herd immunity, the coronavirus will continue to spread throughout our population, mutating as it does, and generating variants that may evade our bodies’ natural or vaccinated-induced immunity. This is a public health and economic emergency. The failure to reach herd immunity is the surest way to extend the coronavirus’ reign of public health misery of 500,000-plus deaths, the pandemic-induced social isolation, and prevent a sustained economic rebound.
But don’t listen to me. Listen to the former president, who at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February 2021 said, “Everybody go get your shot.” This message cannot be a whisper. The vaccines are a tour de force of medical science and industry — incredibly effective, produced in record time, with the capacity to bring life in the United States back to normal, and to turbo-charge our economy.
All politicians, as stewards of public health and our economy, should be trumpeting these vaccines for the miracle they are. But the vaccine won’t give miraculous results if people don’t get vaccinated. Don’t simply listen to me. Observe the actions of the world’s biggest supposed COVID-19 skeptic, Donald Trump.
Furthermore, it’s time that Donald Trump, for the benefit of the nation, treat all Americans with the same concern he shows for himself. Many Americans believe what Donald Trump says. For these Americans, and for those of us who have already been vaccinated or will be, Donald Trump should make a public service announcement that is amplified by all the right wing media encouraging all Americans to get vaccinated by the miracle vaccines that his administration helped make a reality.
After all the disinformation and needless death Trump, why not brag a little bit more about these incredible vaccines? Until the time of this much needed public service announcement, Trump’s admirers should carefully consider, when all was said and done, what Trump did. He got vaccinated. And if you’re smart and public-spirited, you should, too.
Justin F. Thulin, M.D., is a dermatologist practicing in Salt Lake City.