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The top infectious disease expert in the United States has urged former US President Donald Trump to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as recent polls show high levels of hesitancy among Republicans.
Dr Anthony Fauci said on Sunday “it would make all the difference in the world” if the former president used his “incredible influence” among Republicans to push them to accept coronavirus jabs.
“If he came out and said: ‘Go and get vaccinated. It’s really important for your health, the health of your family and the health of the country,’ it seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close followers would listen to him,” Fauci said during an interview on the Fox News Sunday programme.
There was no immediate comment from the former president’s office on Sunday.
Trump, who downplayed the threat of the virus while in office, urged people to get vaccinated late last month during a conservative political gathering in Florida.
But he was widely criticised for his administration’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 534,000 people across the US and pushed millions of families into economic hardship amid a pandemic-related downturn.
The US still has the most COVID-19 cases and coronavirus-related deaths in the world, with more than 29.4 million infections and more than 534,000 deaths as of Sunday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Fauci’s comments come as Biden has sought to speed up inoculation efforts as COVID-19 infection rates slow nationally. The US president last week said he expects all adults would be eligible for a vaccine by May 1.
Just over 20 percent of the US population has received at least one COVID-19 jab so far, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while 11.1 percent are considered fully vaccinated.
The country has administered more than 105 million jabs to date.
But a recent poll conducted by Monmouth University and released on March 8 shows that one in four Americans say they do not plan to get vaccinated.
Of that, 36 percent of Republicans said they would avoid the vaccine compared with just 6 percent of Democrats, while 31 percent of independents said they want to avoid a COVID-19 jab altogether, as well.
“Partisanship has always been the main dividing line on the pandemic. A new challenge for the Biden administration is the possibility of more independents joining Republicans in becoming vaccine sceptics,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement accompanying the poll results.
A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey released on March 11 also found that of the 30 percent of Americans who said they do not plan on taking a COVID-19 vaccine if they have the chance, Republican men and Trump supporters were the most hesitant.
Forty-nine percent of Republican men polled and 47 percent of people who supported Trump in 2020 said they would not choose to be vaccinated.
Forty percent of white men without college degrees said the same, as did 38 percent of white evangelical Christians.
On Sunday, Fauci said he does not understand the resistance to getting a jab.
“What is the problem here? This is a vaccine that is going to be lifesaving for millions of people,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press programme.
“I mean, I just can’t comprehend what the reason for that is when you have a vaccine that’s 94-95 percent effective and it is very safe. I just don’t get it,” he added.