Three popular conservative radio hosts have died from COVID-19 in recent weeks.
Popular right-wing radio host Marc Bernier died of COVID-19, his Daytona, Florida-based station announced on Sunday. He is the third conservative figure who advocated against COVID-19 vaccinations to die from the virus in recent weeks. The announcement of his death comes as Republican lawmakers with a national platform continue to ramp up public efforts opposing coronavirus safety measures.
Bernier, 65, was an outspoken critic of COVID-19 vaccinations. In his final tweet, he had compared the vaccination effort in the U.S. to the behavior of Nazis in Germany.
"Should say, 'Now the US Government is acting like Nazi's. Get the shot!'" Bernier wrote, responding to Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried, who shared a video message encouraging vaccines along with the text, "The greatest generation had to defeat the Nazis to preserve our way of life, you're only being asked to get a shot. So be a patriot. Turn off the TV and go get vaccinated."
Bernier's death follows that of Phil Valentine, another conservative radio host from Tennessee who advocated against COVID-19 vaccines. Valentine's station announced his death from the virus on Aug. 21. "The people who instinctively believe that the government is the solution to everything are already talking vaccination mandates. This should be a personal choice," Valentine, who was 61, wrote in a December blog post. "I'm not an anti-vaxxer. I'm just using common sense."
But as he was hospitalized with COVID-19, his brother issued a statement saying the radio host regretted his former rhetoric. "Phil would like for his listeners to know that while he has never been an 'anti-vaxer' he regrets not being more vehemently 'Pro-Vaccine', and looks forward to being able to more vigorously advocate that position as soon as he is back on the air, which we all hope will be soon," Mark Valentine wrote in a July 23 statement posted to Facebook.
On Aug. 4, another conservative radio host from Florida who railed against the vaccine died of complications stemming from COVID-19. Like the others, Dick Farrel also sowed doubt in coronavirus safety measures, writing in a July 3 Facebook post, "why take a vax promoted by people who lied 2u all along about masks, where the virus came from and the death toll?"
At least one person close to Farrel said that as he was battling COVID-19 he changed his mind on the vaccines and urged friends and family to get the shot. Amy Leigh Hair, who identified herself as a friend of Farrel's, wrote in a Facebook post, "Covid Took One Of My Best Friends! RIP Dick Farrel. He is the reason I took the shot! He texted me and told me to 'Get it!' He told me that this virus is no joke and he said: 'I wish I had gotten it!'"
Data from early August shows that virtually all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are from the unvaccinated. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky in July called the current wave of infections "a pandemic of the unvaccinated."
"We are seeing outbreaks in parts of the country where we're seeing low vaccination coverage," Walensky said, adding, "The good news is, if you're fully vaccinated, you're protected … our biggest concern is we are going to continue see preventable cases, hospitalizations, and sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated."
But the vaccine has been politicized. Aside from right-wing media figures, GOP elected officials have also added to the politicization by railing against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 prevention measures, like mask-wearing.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn't advocated against vaccinations, but he's made policies against vaccinate mandates that have helped lead to conservative uproar. GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn along with many other Republican members of the House, have also launched attacks on vaccine mandates, even as they remain popular with the public.
Polling shows that Americans who identify as Republicans are less likely to be vaccinated than Democrats. A Morning Consult survey conducted from Aug. 17 to Aug. 23 found that vaccine opposition was highest among Republicans, showing that 26% of Republicans are "unwilling" to receive the vaccine, as opposed to 8% of Democrats who said the same. And states that voted for Donald Trump in higher percentages have far lower vaccination rates than states that voted for Joe Biden, according to a Washington Post analysis from Aug. 26.
Data shows that the vaccinations effectively protect against hospitalization and death from the disease, which has to date killed more than 637,000 people in the United States, according to data from the New York Times.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.