Trump defends COVID vaccine as part of his presidential legacy

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Former President Donald Trump has stepped up his defense of the COVID-19 vaccines, in recognition that their rapid development is an important part of his legacy in office.

“I encourage them to take it,” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity in response to a question about supporters who have hesitated to get vaccinated. “I don’t know what it is exactly … I don’t know what it is,” the ex-president said of Republican anti-vaccine sentiment.

“I’m all in favor of the vaccine,” Trump said to New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin. “It’s one of the great achievements, a true miracle, and not only for the United States. We’re saving tens of millions of lives throughout the world. We’re saving entire countries.”

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When the Food and Drug Administration paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over concerns about blood clots, Trump condemned the decision and touted his own role in getting the vaccines out to market in months rather than years.

“They didn’t like me very much because I pushed them extremely hard,” Trump said in a statement. “But if I didn’t, you wouldn’t have a vaccine for 3-5 years, or maybe not at all. It takes them years to act!” He added, “The only way we defeat the China Virus is with our great vaccines!”

Operation Warp Speed was the name of the Trump administration’s initiative to develop vaccines quickly to protect the public from the coronavirus. It was arguably the biggest success story in Trump’s management of the pandemic, which otherwise contributed to his defeat at the hands of President Joe Biden last year. Major media outlets panned Trump’s prediction that the vaccines would be widely available in April as “without evidence,” but that deadline was met. Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, had expressed some concerns about a rushed vaccine during the campaign.

“Credit to whom credit is due,” said Republican strategist Jon Gilmore. “President Trump started the process, and he should be praised for those efforts. President Biden has continued forward and made sure supply meets demand. A true bipartisan effort.”

But that hasn’t prevented partisan jockeying for credit. Biden has suggested his administration needed to start the vaccine process “from scratch.” Trump loyalists argued early Biden vaccination projections merely required the new president to continue at the rate begun by his predecessor. Biden won voters who said the coronavirus was their top issue by 66 points and those who said containing the pandemic was more important than reopening the economy by 60, according to exit polls.

Trump himself may have undersold his administration’s vaccine accomplishments, as he was preoccupied by ill-fated election challenges in the final weeks of his presidency. “If he spent the last 90 days being the voice, and taking credit because he deserved to for the vaccine, and helping get as many Americans vaccinated as he could, he would be remembered for that,” a former administration official told Politico, adding that he would have been in a different “mindset” on Jan. 6, the date of the Capitol riot, had he done so.

“The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed whole-of-America approach to vaccine development, manufacturing, and distribution utilized the most advanced science and innovation to deliver and deploy COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2020 — an achievement medical experts did not think feasible,” said Dr. Heidi Overton, director of the Center for a Healthy America at America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit group supportive of Trump’s legacy. “Operation Warp Speed is an American success story that made it possible for 219 million vaccines to have been administered in the country less than one year later.”

Since leaving office, Trump has amplified his praise of the vaccines and called attention to Operation Warp Speed. “I am glad he did that,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat and frequent Trump critic, said at his City Hall press briefing. “We gotta speak to everyone, we gotta tell everyone it’s so important to get vaccinated, including folks who had doubts.”

“In terms of conservatives’ confidence in the vaccine — again, this is a poll, so it’s not perfect, but it was interesting data — a full 71% of Trump voters said they have either received at least one dose of a vaccine or definitely or probably will, up from 59% in an earlier poll conducted just one month ago,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a daily briefing.

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Still, Trump has yet to appear in a pro-vaccine public service announcement despite telling Hannity he has been asked to do so. Nevertheless, Trump is hailing the vaccines as a “real lifesaver.” He added, “If we didn’t have a vaccine, it would have been just like the 1918 Spanish flu.”