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Pence got the Covid-19 vaccine to build confidence in it. Trump supporters could use more of it.

The vice president just provided a rare example of White House coronavirus leadership.

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Vice President Mike Pence receives the Covid-19 vaccine in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on December 18.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams publicly received the Covid-19 vaccine shot at the White House on Friday morning. Pence described their decision to do so in front of cameras as part of an effort to build confidence among the public that getting the vaccine is a safe and responsible thing to do.

“Karen and I were more than happy to step forward before this week was out, to take the safe and effective coronavirus vaccine,” Pence said. “Building confidence in the vaccine is what brings us here this morning.”

President-elect Joe Biden reportedly will also get a vaccine shot in public next week. It’s unclear when or if President Donald Trump will do so.

Pence’s confidence-building effort is important, because polling has found that Republicans are much less likely to say they’ll receive the coronavirus vaccine than others.

An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Monday found that more than 80 percent of Americans say they will receive the vaccine. That number would likely be about sufficient to achieve herd immunity, but vaccine skepticism is much more prevalent among Republicans. From ABC News’s writeup of its polling:

Partisanship also plays a role in influencing the public’s outlook on a vaccine. Republicans (26%) are more than four times as likely as Democrats (6%) and nearly twice as likely as independents (14%) to say they would never get the coronavirus vaccine.

So Pence doing what he could on Friday to bolster confidence in the vaccine among Trump supporters is a good thing — especially as outlets like Fox News devote entire segments of programming to casting doubt on its safety and efficacy. But it also provides an occasion to reflect on how many lives could have been saved had Trump and Pence tried to lead by example throughout the pandemic.

The Trump administration has been a case study in what not to do

It’s not exactly breaking news that Trump has flouted his own government’s pandemic public health recommendations at every turn by refusing to wear a mask in public, traveling the country for packed political rallies with no social distancing, and endangering government staff when he was hospitalized with his own case of the virus.

But Pence has low key been just as irresponsible as Trump. He’s also refused to wear a mask in public — including, in one infamous incident, at a hospital — flouted social distancing during political events and television appearances, and even resisted a common-sense proposal to put a plexiglass barrier between himself and Kamala Harris at the vice presidential debate, even while a Covid-19 outbreak ravaged the White House.

Pence’s chief of staff and numerous other members of his staff contracted the virus. Despite Pence’s repeated exposures, the vice president’s office never announced he contracted it.

The misinformation Pence has spread has been more subtle than Trump’s public musings about bleach injections or herd immunity, but he’s guilty of spreading it all the same. Perhaps most egregiously, Pence in mid-June authored an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal with the headline, “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave.’” New daily cases at that time had dipped from their previous peak in May, but experts warned that was likely to change heading into the fall and winter and urged people to not let their guard down.

Pence’s op-ed, however, spoke about the pandemic in the past tense, saying things like, “The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different. The truth is, whatever the media says, our whole-of-America approach has been a success.” Six months later, new daily cases have hit record highs, the daily death toll is routinely topping 3,000, and the total death toll is north of 300,000.

Having failed to get the pandemic under control using the sorts of public health guidelines that were successful in other countries, Pence and company now view the vaccine as a silver bullet. Given that coronavirus spread is not out of control in all 50 states according to the Covid Tracking Project, they’re probably not wrong to do so — but things didn’t have to get this bad.

Pence is more enthusiastic about getting a vaccine than Trump

President Trump contracted Covid-19 this fall and experts say “antibodies may be detected in your blood for several months or more after you recover.” This state of affairs became a punchline during the final weeks of the presidential campaign; Trump musing about walking into the crowd and kissing people became a regular bit at his rallies.

Whether or not he has antibodies, Trump could get a shot publicly as part of the confidence-building effort Pence talked about. But Trump has repeatedly expressed anti-vaxx viewpoints on Twitter, and earlier this week White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany hedged when asked if Trump would ever receive a coronavirus vaccine.

More importantly, early returns on the Trump administration’s vaccine rollout aren’t positive, with governors already complaining about dosage shipments being unexpectedly cut, and Pfizer saying millions of doses are sitting in warehouses while the company awaits instructions from the federal government.

Pence’s display of leadership means something, but not nearly as much as implementing a plan so a critical mass of people can get immunized — ending the coronavirus nightmare he and his boss have actively made worse.

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