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US Officials: Russia Has Been Trying (And Failing) to Undermine Americans' Confidence in COVID Vaccines

AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

Sowing conspiracy theories and peddling paranoia in order to undermine America's faith in its own institutions, for no discernible purpose beyond a nihilistic perception of zero-sum advantage – even if it costs innocent people their lives? That doesn't sound like the Kremlin. I kid. It sounds exactly like the Kremlin, of course. If they're willing to interfere in our elections and whip up social unrest online, deliberately pitting both American ideological tribes against each other, why wouldn't they stoop to the pathetic low of trying to convince people not to accept a life-saving, pandemic-ending cure? The Wall Street Journal reports:


Russian intelligence agencies have mounted a campaign to undermine confidence in Pfizer Inc.’s and other Western vaccines, using online publications that in recent months have questioned the vaccines’ development and safety, U.S. officials said. An official with the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which monitors foreign disinformation efforts, identified four publications that he said have served as fronts for Russian intelligence. The websites played up the vaccines’ risk of side effects, questioned their efficacy, and said the U.S. had rushed the Pfizer vaccine through the approval process, among other false or misleading claims. Though the outlets’ readership is small, U.S. officials say they inject false narratives that can be amplified by other Russian and international media...In addition, Russian state media and Russian government Twitter accounts have made overt efforts to raise concerns about the cost and safety of the Pfizer vaccine in what experts outside the U.S. government say is an effort to promote the sale of Russia’s rival Sputnik V vaccine.

They're sort of half-assing it in this campaign, it seems. And thankfully, they're failing. As more people are receiving the jab (the entire US Supreme Court has now been inoculated), and the vaccines are proving extremely safe and effective, public confidence and interest in receiving the shots has increased dramatically. We are well on our way to crushing this crisis:


The past two weeks alone, there were two polls that show just how much vaccine hesitancy has declined. The Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 55% of adults say they now want a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible or have already received their first dose. That's up from 47% in January and 34% in December.  While the percentage of hardline "get it only if required" or "definitely not" has remained fairly consistent at or just north of 20%, the hesitant population of "wait and see how it's working" has dropped by nearly half during the last two months from 39% to 22%. Axios/Ipsos polling shows a similar trendline. A mere 13% of adults said in September they would get a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it was made available to them. That jumped to 27% in early December to 43% in early January. Now, 57% say they have already received the vaccine or will get it as soon as possible. Like in the Kaiser polling, the hardline vaccine resistant population (i.e. people who say they will not get the vaccine or will only get it if forced) is basically the same size now (18%) as it was in September (23%) and early January (19%). More people who say they will wait a period of time (a few weeks to a year or more) to get the vaccine has decreased rapidly: 64% in September, 51% in early December, 38% in early January and 28% now.


Superb results and the tantalizing promise of a return to normalcy has skepticism melting away among the "wait and see" group. Between the avalanche of vaccinations completed, currently underway, or likely to occur over the next three months – coupled with the substantial amount of natural immunity among those who've recovered from the virus – herd immunity is on the way. Whether we achieve that crucial benchmark in April remains to be seen, and we may not experience a perfect linear progression to "full normal" over the next year, but we are incontrovertibly on the brink of vast improvement. The newly-announced CDC guidance for vaccinated people underscores that heartening reality:

CDC’s guidance today recommends that fully vaccinated people can:

- Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing;

- Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing

- Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure to COVID-19 if asymptomatic 

Again, not fully normal, but getting there. Vaccinated people can mingle amongst themselves with no masking or distancing, and can be around some unvaccinated people in social settings (my guess is that people will interpret this piece of guidance rather liberally). Exposed? No quarantine or test necessary. You're safe if you're immunized. That's closer to the type of messaging that Americans need to hear, especially because it could help further reduce the ranks of the aforementioned "wait and see" category, pushing them into the "give it to me" column. I still think the CDC recommendations are too guarded and complex. The above notes are a vast improvement over this, for sure, but keeping it simpler may be even better:


Circling back to Moscow, it must frustrate the Russians to no end that their campaigns to spread misinformation and doubt about the wildly successful Western vaccines are floundering, as the US and UK run circles around much of the rest of the world. And as embarrassingly inefficient as the European Union has been on vaccinations (roughly nine doses administered per 100 residents), Russia has been worse (less than five doses per 100 people). By contrast, the United States and United Kingdom have achieved approximately 27 and 34, respectively, as of Sunday, and we are gaining on them. Here in the US, the ramp-up has been downright spectacular in recent days:

And as well as our friends the Brits are performing on vaccines, we should all be grateful that we live in a nation that cannot subject us to nationwide lockdowns this severe:


Friends and family members reunited in parks and town centres across England today for the first time in months after the first easing of lockdown restrictions came into place this morning. People were seen enjoying chats and coffees in Hyde Park, central London while friends braved the cold weather to sit down for a picnic in a park in Leeds. Today marks the start of England's great unlocking, with two friends allowed to meet outside socially, families allowed to see loved ones in care homes and schools welcoming back pupils.

Yesterday marked the first time in months that Britons were allowed to meet up in public, even outdoors. The UK's restrictions have been unthinkably harsh, from the American perspective, and the UK's COVID death rate is still worse than what we've experienced here in the US. I'll leave you with one more thing, also good news:

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