The chorus of pro-vaccine statements from Fox News hosts such as Sean Hannity seemed to mark a key moment in the push to convince vaccine-skeptics to get the jab.
On Monday night, Hannity implored his viewers to take the pandemic seriously. “Just like we’ve been saying, please take Covid seriously. I can’t say it enough, enough people have died, we don’t need any more deaths,” he said.
“It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science, I believe in the science of vaccinations.”
His comments were immediately followed by an interview with a woman protesting that her college required students to get vaccinated, and between the more vaccine-skeptical shows hosted by Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
But after months of sowing doubt about the vaccine, and with vaccination rates in the United States lagging behind other developed countries, hopes were high that perhaps Mr Hannity could break through the largely conservative bubble of anti-vaxx sentiment.
Addressing the issue the next day, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the president recognized “the importance of reaching Fox’s audience about the Covid-19 vaccines and their benefits”.
She added: “We don’t see vaccines as a political issue. It’s an issue about keeping Americans safe.”
Writing in The Atlantic, David A Graham said: “The shift in tone among these high-profile voices is sharp and sudden enough to merit notice.”
A former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, joined in the lovefest, saying: “Thank you, Sean Hannity. Vaccines work and they will save lives.”
Fellow Fox News host Steve Doocy and right-wing firebrand Ben Shapiro also told their audiences that getting the jab would save lives.
Not everyone was impressed. Mr Hannity drew fire from far-right radio host Wayne Dupree, a conspiracy theorist and Sandy Hook truther.
A piece on his website asked: “Does Sean realize he’s pissing-off his base and is treading in some very dangerous waters right now?”
Perhaps sensing he was out of step with his audience, Mr Hannity returned to familiar ground, sounding off on his radio show on Thursday that he’s “not urging people to get the vaccine”.
“For some reason, me saying take Covid seriously has finally caught up with the mob and the – and the media. Now, I think they’ve got ulterior motives,” Hannity said on his radio show.
“They monitor this show and TV every night, and I think it has to do with the fact that – you know, there’s been this attempt to blame conservatives for the vaccine hesitancy.
”Well, first of all, I’m not urging people to get the Covid-19 vaccine, because I’m not a doctor. That is not what I said. I said to take it seriously, it can kill you. I said to do a lot of research. If you have a phone, do your research.”
“I have no idea why, but it was only in the last week my coverage of coronavirus, Covid-19, got the attention of the liberal press,” Mr Hannity added.
On his Thursday night primetime Fox show, Mr Hannity said he was not qualified to give anyone medical advice.
“I know nothing about your medical history or your current medical condition. I think it’s inappropriate for me to do so,” he said.
“I said to take it seriously and do your own research.”
Writing for left-wing media watchdog Media Matters, John Whitehouse said Hannity’s about-face was because he’s feared his viewers.
Chris Hayes, the MSNBC host, Tweeted: “They’re all scared of their own audience.”
Justin Baragona, a contribting editor for The Daily Beast, wrote: “Hannity wants everyone to know ‘I never told anyone to get a vaccine.’ So, basically, he wants you all to stop giving him any credit for urging his viewers to get vaxxed.”
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