Former President Donald Trump was booed by his own supporters during a rally in Cullman, Alabama Saturday night after he encouraged the crowd to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I believe totally in your freedoms, I do, you gotta do what you gotta do, but I recommend take the vaccines. I did it. It’s good,” he said, drawing boos from the crowd of supporters.
“That’s okay, that’s alright,” Trump continued, brushing off the disapproval. “But I happen to take the vaccine. If it doesn’t work, you’ll be the first to know. But it is working. You do have your freedoms, you have to maintain that.”
A growing number of Republican leaders have urged voters to get the coronavirus vaccine as the highly contagious Delta variant sweeps through most parts of the U.S., driving up cases, deaths and hospitalizations in a new phase of the pandemic.
“These shots need to get in everybody’s arm as rapidly as possible, or we’re going to be back in a situation in the fall that we don’t yearn for, that we went through last year,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late July. “Ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.”
The new messaging marks a notable shift from the anti-COVID-19 lockdowns, masks and vaccine sentiment that has gripped much of the Republican Party since the start of the pandemic.
Before the proliferation of the Delta variant—which now accounts for about 95 percent of the nation’s cases—Republican skepticism of COVID-19 vaccines and the Biden administration’s rollout grew so loud that some polls found almost 50 percent of GOP voters were unlikely to get vaccinated.
But even as top Republicans joined the Biden administration in pushing the vaccine, other members of the GOP have continued to ignore or spread misinformation about its safety and efficacy.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was suspended from Twitter again earlier this month for spreading misinformation about the vaccine. Rep. Barry Moore of Alabama falsely claimed the vaccine was “untested” Saturday, after testing positive for COVID-19 a day earlier.
Conservative personalities, including Fox News hosts, have widened the Red/Blue divide in vaccination rates by extending a platform to vaccine skeptics and criticizing vaccination mandates ordered by businesses as an infringement on individual freedoms.
Most COVID-19 deaths in the country are now among unvaccinated people. So far, 170,406,785 Americans—or 51.3 percent of the total population—have received both doses of the vaccine and 200,947,556 have received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Newsweek reached out to Trump representatives for comment.