Tucker Carlson is Wrong About Vaccines
I’ve written several times before about Tucker Carlson — in fact, he was the subject of my first piece here on Medium. And in the intervening months, I’ve covered a lot of Tucker’s misadventures, including his lies about immigration, his lies about impeachment, his lies about income inequality, and most recently, his lies about infectious diseases. Seriously, how does he lie like he’s running out of time? The man is nonstop!
But none of the arguments I referenced above, however absurd, compares to the dangerous rhetoric he spewed in the two most recent episodes of his nightly dark-carnival-esque television show. Speaking about the FDA approval and subsequent distribution of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Tucker said this on December 17th:
The coronavirus vaccine is finally here. It’s arriving in small bottles, but with a glitzy entrance. [It] has been accompanied by the kind of corporate image campaign you typically associate with higher end consumer products. Imagine the roll-out for a Hollywood blockbuster, the new iPhone, that’s what it is like. Suddenly the COVID vaccine is on the morning shows, it’s being touted on celebrity Twitter accounts, and the news about it is uniformly glowing. This stuff is just great. A lot of famous people say so.
He continued to highlight an isolated incident in which two healthcare workers in Alaska had an allergic reaction to the vaccine, using that event to sow doubts about the vaccine and its rollout effort: “So, how are the rest of us supposed to respond to a marketing campaign like this?” he asked. “Well, nervously.” Tucker then insinuated that the CDC is coordinating with Twitter to hide the truth about the vaccine’s risks from the public.
Now might be a good time to point out that experts warned in advance that some people would react poorly to the vaccine, and that media coverage should not serve to undermine public confidence in it as a result. A December 16th article from CNN featured commentary from Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, who warned that
Isolated adverse events shouldn’t erode confidence in these vaccines. Multiple anecdotes do not equal data. We actually have solid safety data for the Pfizer vaccine from the phase 3 efficacy trial and the vaccine appears safe in the group in which it was studied.
In that same article, the author writes that Dr. James Hamblin, a physician and lecturer in public health policy at Yale University, said the following in an apparent message to the more conspiracy-minded Americans:
NO ONE is trying to cover any of this up. We need absolute transparency in reporting these events to CDC and FDA, and all those stats should be publicly available. The only question is in how journalists tell this story as it unfolds.
Of course, Tucker used his platform the next day to showcase a masterclass in the very type of journalistic malpractice about which the CNN article warned.
Now, there is absolutely no evidence that these reactions were unexpected nor that health officials tried to cover them up. Experts anticipated the possibility of allergic reactions to vaccine — it is for this reason that they require recipients to stay on-site fifteen minutes after its administration; should an adverse reaction occur, healthcare workers are immediately available to treat it.
In addition, the health officials who administered the vaccine in Alaska told the New York Times, who broke the original story, that they were sharing the information “for the sake of transparency.” And while Tucker implies that the media are hiding the name of the patients to prevent further investigation, revealing their identities would be a blatant violation of HIPAA laws. Healthcare workers can’t reveal patients’ names, even if they wanted to.
But I fear that I’ve already spent too much time debunking Tucker’s arguments from that segment. Because during his December 18th broadcast, the day after he needlessly raised doubts about the risks of the Coronavirus vaccine, Tucker made perhaps the most unhinged argument I’ve ever heard on a national television show.
I don’t mean to sensationalize, but this is not exaggeration on my part. Here is what Tucker said on about the CDC’s plan to distribute the vaccine:
According to the CDC’s panel, another group — those officially classified as “non-healthcare essential workers” — should get the vaccine first. Why is that? “Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented in many essential industries.” In other words it’s entirely racial. They’re making the decision based on race…Of course, it would kill people and [the CDC] effectively concedes that. But the people it would kill come from a disfavored race so it’s not a big deal. It’s been a very long time since anyone close to what we consider the mainstream has endorsed eugenics and that is exactly what that is. It’s eugenics.
This is, to use the appropriate public health terminology, absolute bullshit. In fact, Tucker is wrong in so many ways in just that one paragraph that I hardly know where to begin.
For one, let’s start with the factual inaccuracies. Tucker suggests here that essential workers will receive the vaccine before the elderly. This is not true. It was merely an idea floated by some on the CDC’s advisory panel in November as a means of addressing the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on communities of color.
See, Tucker left out the key contextual detail that Black Americans, for example, are almost three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white counterparts. If the vaccine were to be deployed in a manner that prioritizes people of color, it would only be to offset the structural inequalities that have led to such disparities. It would not constitute eugenics, using even the broadest definition possible.
Secondly — and I apologize for the slight pedantries here — Tucker uses a rhetorical flourish that makes his initial claim untrue. He asserts that the prioritization of essential workers was made “entirely” on the basis of race. But that’s not true, is it? Even a cursory reading of the initial proposal shows that race was one of many considerations for prioritizing essential workers, another being that they “are out there putting themselves at risk to allow the rest of us to socially distance.” These are the words of Beth Bell, a researcher at the University of Washington and chair of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), explaining in rather clear language that the higher risk associated with being a frontline worker warrants priority in receiving the vaccine.
Nevertheless, if we disregard all of the above, Tucker is still wrong. His claim is predicated on the idea that essential workers have taken priority over healthcare workers in the distribution of the vaccine, which is flatly incorrect. As the CDC explains, the panel officially suggested that
When a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized by FDA and recommended by ACIP, vaccination in the initial phase of the COVID-19 vaccination program (Phase 1a) should be offered to both 1) healthcare personnel and 2) residents of long-term care facilities.
But notice my word choice — I say that the panel “suggested,” not “commanded” these things. This is because the CDC has no authority over how states distribute their vaccines. In any case, an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that almost every state in the country has adhered to the CDC recommendations in this first phase of vaccine distribution. And none of them, to my knowledge, have prioritized vaccines for essential workers over the elderly.
So, yes. Tucker is wrong about almost everything related to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution. He was wrong in his assessment of the risks it poses, which he articulated on December 17th, and he was wrong that the distribution plan constitutes “eugenics” against white people.
Nevertheless, it is good to hear that Tucker is gravely concerned with the idea of eugenics. Because when a nurse who worked at a Georgia prison filed a whistleblower complaint against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), alleging that the agency performed forced hysterectomies on migrant women, what did Tucker say?
Nothing. He did not once talk about the story on his show, which tells you all you need to know about his supposed opposition to eugenics.
Tucker Carlson is, evidently, a dishonest grifter who makes no commitment to truth (his legal team has even argued as much in court). But in the case of COVID-19, his rhetoric is dangerous and might even lead to viewers losing their lives.
We have an obligation to call out his lies and counteract them when we can.