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The White House has launched a new campaign against COVID-19 misinformation, announcing a $13.5 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to combat this phenomenon, which is most urgently contributing to vaccine hesitancy. The press tried to get officials to call out Republicans as a major source of this disinformation and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy (mostly) refused to take the bait.
While repeatedly invoking the scientific consensus, Murthy said, “Sometimes the most trusted sources are a mother or father or a faith leader or a local doctor or a nurse, and that’s why, to reach people with accurate information, what we have to do is partner with those local trusted voices.”
There’s one national trusted voice who could do more than any other to reach those reluctant to get vaccinated: former President Donald Trump. Whatever his detractors think about him, millions of Americans believe he is the only political leader who truly represents them. And through Operation Warp Speed, he did play a crucial role in developing the vaccines at a record pace.
Trump has encouraged people to get vaccinated before. But never as part of a sustained public campaign. All it would take is a little flattery to enlist him and he could boast about the vaccines as part of his own legacy, possibly getting holdouts among his own voters to take the shots.
This would be distasteful for the Biden administration, especially after the events of Jan. 6. Indeed, Trump could have more profitably spent the months he has devoted to re-litigating the presidential election taking a vaccine victory lap instead. Just this week, Trump has mused about the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff being an unsuitable partner for a coup and dropped such statesmanlike quotes as, “Many say I am the greatest star-maker of all time. But some of the stars I produced are actually made of garbage.”
But Trump’s continued relevance is beyond the current administration’s control. If President Biden believes what he says about promoting national unity and turning the page on a divisive predecessor’s inflammatory approach to politics, he will enlist that predecessor in the national COVID-19 initiative. Biden does not have to let Trump talk about bleach, but he can amplify the 45th president’s role in the vaccines’ creation and approval.
It won’t be a panacea — but it would put America first.