Sen. Ron Johnson on Thursday downplayed the urgency of vaccinating all Americans against Covid-19, putting the controversial Wisconsin Republican at odds with public health guidance aimed at easing the ongoing pandemic.
“The science tells us that vaccines are 95% effective. So if you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not? I mean, what is it to you?” Johnson said in an interview with conservative radio host Vicki McKenna.
“You got a vaccine, and science is telling you it’s very, very effective. So why is this big push to make sure everybody gets a vaccine?” Johnson asked.
Johnson’s comments come as all states expanded their updated Covid-19 vaccine eligibility guidelines this week, opening up vaccinations to all Americans 16 years of age and older, and as the country’s leading medical experts urge all Americans to get a vaccine as soon as possible. Both President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and have encouraged Americans to do so.
In the McKenna interview, however, Johnson said he is skeptical of the “big push” to vaccinate all Americans.
“From my standpoint, because it’s not a fully approved vaccine, I think we probably should have limited the distribution to the vulnerable. To people that really aren’t, you know, for the very young, I see no reason to be pushing vaccines on people,” Johnson said.
Asked by CNN on Friday if he believed every American over the age of 16 should receive the vaccine, Johnson would not directly answer the question and instead insisted that he favored Americans making their own decisions about whether to get vaccinated.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
However, Johnson’s caution about the emergency use authorization is misleading. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – the two current US vaccination options – received emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration in December. For Pfizer/BioNTech, that includes everyone over the age of 16, and for Moderna, everyone who is 18 and older.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA lifted their recommended pause on use of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine Friday and said the label will be updated, indicating that women under 50 should be aware of the risk of a rare blood-clotting syndrome associated with the vaccine. Johnson & Johnson vaccinations could resume as soon as Saturday, the FDA said, for people 18 and older.
The authorization means that a medical product gets special authorization by the FDA to be used during an emergency, though it is short of a full approval. The companies still need to file a separate application for their vaccines to be fully licensed by the FDA.
Experts generally agree that somewhere between 70% and 85% of the population must be protected to suppress the spread, a range that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recently cited. Leading experts, including Fauci and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, have also cited the need to prevent coronavirus variants from spreading as a key reason for urging people to get vaccinated.
In March, Johnson – who tested positive for coronavirus last fall – told CNN he had not yet been vaccinated. CNN reached out to his office on Friday for an update as to whether he has now received it but did not immediately receive a response.
This story has been updated with developments on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
CNN’s Ali Main, Maggie Fox and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.