Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said COVID-19 vaccine distribution should have been limited “to the vulnerable” as he appeared to call into question the premise of vaccinating the vast majority of the American population to stamp out the novel coronavirus.
“The science tells us that vaccines are 95% effective,” Johnson said during a Thursday interview with talk-show host Vicki McKenna. “So, if you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not.”
The vaccine program is designed to help the United States achieve herd immunity to control and eradicate the virus in order to minimize hospitalizations and deaths.
In the United States, 135 million people have received at least one vaccine dose. Eighty-nine million people are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccines are made available under emergency use authorization by the FDA.
“From my standpoint, because it’s not a fully approved vaccine, I think we probably should have limited the distribution to the vulnerable,” Johnson said in the radio interview.
Last fall, Johnson said he tested positive for COVID-19, and in December he held a hearing that gave a forum to doctors who touted alternative treatments for the coronavirus.
Johnson has not taken a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a spokesman. In a Friday interview with Asia Pacific Today, Johnson said: “I mean having the disease, I’ve always felt, was better than a vaccine because you’ve actually had the disease. You’ve developed the antibodies, you ought to have some pretty good immunity. Why would you be pushing people that have already had the disease, why would you push the vaccine on them?”
The CDC recommends people get vaccinated even if they have had the illness. Officials say it’s possible to get COVID-19 a second time, and scientists don’t know how long people remain immune after having the illness.
In a statement to the Journal Sentinel Friday, Johnson expanded on his radio remarks.
“Everyone should have the right to gather information, consult with their doctor and decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated,” he said. “I strongly supported Operation Warp Speed, and celebrated its astonishingly rapid success. Now I believe government’s role (and therefore my role) is to help ensure transparency so that people have as much information as possible to make an informed decision for themselves.”
Johnson said: “It is a legitimate question as to whether people at very low risk of suffering serious illness from COVID, particularly the young and healthy, should be encouraged to take a vaccine that is being administered under an Emergency Use Authorization — in other words, before it has been fully tested and fully approved.”
Johnson said he championed “Right-to-Try” legislation, allowing terminally ill patients to receive experimental drugs.
“A reasonable corollary to that is the right to choose or not to choose treatment,” he said. “I also support health privacy laws and will vigorously oppose any efforts by the government to utilize or impose vaccine passports.”
Johnson has not yet announced if he’s running for a third term next year, but his comments drew scorn from his potential Democratic rivals.
“As if holding up vaccine funding wasn’t bad enough, now Ron Johnson is literally campaigning against widespread vaccines,” state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski said. “His denial of science isn’t just irresponsible, it’s downright dangerous and Wisconsinites deserve so much better.”
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said: “First, Ron Johnson said we were overreacting to COVID. Now, he says Americans shouldn’t rush to get vaccinated. Johnson’s scientifically illiterate beliefs are deadly and will only prolong the COVID crisis.”
During the Thursday interview, Johnson said he “was a big supporter of the Operation Warp Speed. I thought that was brilliant the way we squeezed every inefficiency in developing the vaccine.
“But from my standpoint, because it’s not a fully approved vaccine I think we probably should have limited the distribution to the vulnerable.”
Johnson added: “I see no reason to be pushing vaccines on people and I certainly am going to vigorously resist any kind of government use or imposing of vaccine passports.
“But they’ll probably get the private sector to do it for government. That could be a very freedom robbing theft. People need to understand these things.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said, “there will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”