Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday recommended Americans get the COVID-19 vaccine, but indicated he supports their freedom not to. It comes as a large number of Republicans have indicated they are likely to not opt for the shot.
"I would recommend it and I would recommend it to a lot of people who don't want to get it and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly," Trump told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo. "We have our freedoms and we have to live by that and I agree with that, also."
Trump, who was in office when the effort to find a vaccine began with Operation Warp Speed, said, "It's a great vaccine, it's a safe vaccine and it's something that works."
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 42% of Republicans say they probably or definitely will not get the shot, compared with 17% of Democrats — a 25-point split.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday that Trump using his “incredible influence” with Republicans would “make all the difference in the world" when it comes to overcoming hesitancy.
Resistance to vaccines has worried GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who convened a focus group on Saturday with 20 vaccine-skeptical Trump voters to try to figure out what kinds of messages might persuade them to take the shots. Participating in the session were Republican congressional leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former CDC director Thomas Frieden.
Some have placed blame on Trump, who spent much of the pandemic minimizing the dangers posed by the virus, even after he was hospitalized last October and had to be given supplemental oxygen and experimental treatments. Trump did receive the vaccine before leaving office, but did so privately and secretly, declining to disclose the fact until this month.
Luntz said he thinks Fauci's appeal Sunday was too late. In his focus group, a new pro-vaccine ad campaign that featured former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, along with their wives made participants less likely to want to get vaccinated. And participants said they trusted their doctors much more than the former president.
“My advice to politicians is step aside and let your medical professional take over,” he said.
The Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed focused most of its efforts on racing vaccines through research, development and manufacturing. But the Associated Press reported last month that little planning or funding went to coordinating vaccination campaigns at the state and local levels. That effort has picked up speed with a rising number of mass vaccination sites and an increasing supply distributed to chain pharmacies.
Matthew Perrone, Lauran Neergard, Jill Colvin and Heather Hollingsworth of the Associated Press contributed to this report.