Tucker Carlson May Be America’s Biggest Public Health Problem
Carlson knows anti-vaxxers have become a big part of Trump’s Republican Party and that they are easy marks as he hustles to up the ante and amp up the outrage.
One of the biggest problems for public health in America is that newly promoted and horribly ubiquitous Fox News host Tucker Carlson is smart, much smarter than his peers in Rupert Murdoch’s personal propaganda network. And Carlson keeps telling his vast viewership just how dangerous he suspects not the coronavirus, but the vaccine against it, is to their health.
On a week when the Biden administration started grappling with the question of how they were going to move on to the next phase of their Herculean vaccination effort, shifting to family doctors and pharmacies as vaccine distribution sites as they try and convince holdouts to get the shot, Carlson is committed to convincing his vast viewership to keep resisting. On Wednesday night, he highlighted the CDC’s open source Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, or VAERS, which has long been a go-to destination for the disinformation set, as he monologued about the supposed dangers of getting protected from the coronavirus under a news chyron that read: “EVERYONE IN AUTHORITY WANTS YOU TO GET YOUR VACCINE”.
After months of “just asking” about vaccines—in between harassing female journalists, spouting white nationalist talking points, and defending killer cop Derek Chauvin—Carlson finally walked right up to the line of coming out as a full-blown anti-vaxxer, claiming that something fatally suspicious appears to be happening here since, “Most vaccines are not accused of killing large numbers of people.”
Actually, this vaccine is not being accused of that either, except by the top-rated host on Fox News and all of cable TV. As Dr. Peter Hotez explained to me, “The VAERS system has been highly effective for picking up rare safety signals, and is a useful tool in our highly efficient pharmacovigilance system. It’s major deficiency is that it is not supported by a sufficiently robust system of public health communication to explain to the American people that 1) this is just one of several surveillance systems in place, by no means the only mechanism, and 2) by its design it picks up lots of events that are unrelated to the vaccine, in fact an overwhelming amount of information contained in this system. As a consequence, VAERS is often used as a weapon of disinformation by anti-vaccine groups, and there is currently no mechanism in the US Government to halt this practice.” Which is doctor-speak for this is all bullshit.
While Carlson claimed in his be-very-afraid monologue that “fewer than 1 percent of vaccine adverse events are reported by the VAERS system,” in fact it’s impossible to know what percentage of anything is getting picked up by a system that’s completely self-reported. As Mark Hay explained at The Daily Beast, “anyone can file a report to the system, which opens it to secondhand or hearsay, repetitious, or even clearly spurious accounts of adverse reactions.” Basically, posting on VAERS is the same as posting a bad review on Amazon.
Carlson continued: “So what is the real number of people who apparently have been killed or injured by the vaccine? We don’t know that number.” But that’s also bullshit. As Dr. Craig Spencer tweeted “We prioritized high-risk groups for vaccination. You know, like the elderly. As in, some of the same people whose risk of dying was actually just kinda high at baseline. Did some of them die after getting a vaccine? Yes.” Also, more than 1.2 billion vaccine doses have been administered around the globe and yet incidences of unexplained deaths and serious side effects have been vanishingly small. Tucker’s boss Rupert Murdoch got vaccinated in December; Tucker’s hero Donald Trump in January.
Unfortunately, Carlson’s anti-vaccine rhetoric is working, as he’s gone from bringing on “experts” like the the fake feminist or the spy novelist to “warn” about the vaccines to doing it himself; a staggering 55 percent of Republicans ages 18 to 39 now say they are vaccine-hesitant or outright resistant, according to one recent poll.
Anti-vaxxers have become a big part of Trump’s Republican party, and Carlson knows this. He also knows that anti-vaxxers are easy marks and, in a world where everyone's cable news ratings are in freefall and there are all of a sudden two other conservative channels fighting for oxygen, you can see why he would keep trying to up the ante and amp up the outrage.
Unfortunately, this outrage cycle may just kill us all.