COVID is back and so are death panels. But this time they're real and live on Fox News.

·4 min read
President Donald Trump on Dec. 8, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump on Dec. 8, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

The death panels are back.

Remember them? Back in 2009, Sarah Palin (remember her?) invented the term to describe how President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act would, she claimed, create bureaucratic "death panels" that would determine which Americans were worthy of medical care.

It’s “downright evil,” she said.

Of course it was rubbish – the Washington Post awarded Palin four Pinocchios for her dishonesty and Politifact named it the 2009 "Lie of the Year" – but that didn’t stop the Tea Party (remember it?) and other Republicans from carrying her anti-Obamacare torch, while she faded into obscurity.

Fast forward a dozen years. Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, is about as visible as sunlight in the dead of an Alaskan winter. But the death panels have returned.

And this time, there’s actually some truth to the phrase. Now the death panels consist of pinhead Republican politicians, TV blowhards and social media disinformation peddlers who talk down COVID-19 vaccines for political reasons. They encourage fellow Republicans not to get vaxxed – and place them at greater risk of death.

Trump gets some credit for vaccines

President Joe Biden’s plan to go door-to-door to encourage the unvaccinated to get their shot? "The greatest scandal in my lifetime, by far," Tucker Carlson cried on Fox News. “Creepy stuff,” chimed in Laura Ingraham.

Never mind that their boss, Rupert Murdoch, eagerly got vaccinated. Never mind that their hero Donald Trump got vaccinated. And never mind that Trump wants others to get vaccinated as well. “I encourage them to take it,” he said – on Fox – back in April.

Never mind any of that. It’s the worst, scariest, most disturbing, petrifying thing ever! Hyperbole much?

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What’s really loony and hypocritical here is that even while talking down the vaccine, Republicans are taking credit for it. Operation Warp Speed, after all, was launched during the Trump era, and the first vaccines were approved in December, while Trump was still president.

This was a huge accomplishment. And Trump deserves some degree of credit for helping to make it happen. So why wouldn’t Republicans, as a form of tribute to their favorite president, get vaccinated? Why the opposition and scare tactics over something he helped achieve?

Because Biden is now the president urging Americans to get vaxxed.

Not only is this petty, but these blockheads are too myopic to realize that the only people they’re hurting are their fellow Republicans, conservatives and Trump worshipers.

Too soon to unmask: I'm vaccinated and I'm tired of my mask, but I'll keep it on because I care – about your health

For example, consider the Mayo Clinic’s “Vaccine Tracker,” which tracks vaccination levels around the country. As of Sunday, it shows these states with the lowest percentage of people who have been fully vaccinated:

Alabama 33.6%

Mississippi 33.6%

Arkansas 35.2%

Wyoming 36%

Louisiana 36.1%

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin giving her resignation speech in Fairbanks on July 26, 2009.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin giving her resignation speech in Fairbanks on July 26, 2009.

That’s five pro-Trump red states with 32 electoral votes, a good chunk of the 270 it takes to win the presidency, where citizens are being deliberately scared by blow-dried, fake news peddling TV anchors. Why get medical advice from your doctor (who trusts experts anyway?) when you can just switch on hucksters like Carlson and Ingraham?

Fired for promoting COVID vaccines?

It’s not difficult to connect the dots here. "This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday at a White House COVID briefing. Added Jeff Zients, the Biden administration's coronavirus response coordinator: "Unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths."

That same day, asked his message about COVID misinformation on social platforms like Facebook, Biden was blunt. "They're killing people," he said. "The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people."

Reaching the young: How to get Gen Z vaccinated against COVID? Our work for the Biden campaign holds clues.

A week ago, red state Tennessee fired its top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, giving no reason in its termination letter. But Fiscus, the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs in the Volunteer State, claims she was let go because her department had been working to educate and vaccinate teenagers about COVID-19.

In a letter to The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY network, Dr. Fiscus wrote that she is the “25th of 64 state and territorial immunization program directors to leave their position during this pandemic.” She added, “We have been disparaged, demeaned, accused, and sometimes vilified by a public who chooses not to believe in science, and elected and appointed officials who have put their own self-interest above the people they were chosen to represent and protect.”

Medical professionals like Dr. Fiscus are bound by the Hippocratic Oath, which famously requires them to “do no harm” to their patients. Sadly, politicians have no similar creed with regard to those they represent. Nor do television personalities.

The death panels are back.

Paul Brandus is the founder and White House bureau chief of West Wing Reports and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. His latest book is "Jackie: Her Transformation from First Lady to Jackie O." Follow him on Twitter: @WestWingReport

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump got a COVID vaccine but Fox News is endangering his fans' lives