Republicans complain White House warnings about omicron aren't 'unifying'


They are upset about the administration's straight talk on COVID-19 safety.

President Joe Biden's administration is warning that the omicron variant of the coronavirus poses a serious risk to unvaccinated Americans. Congressional Republicans are mad that this is not a "unifying message."

At a press briefing on Dec. 17, White House COVID-⁠19 response coordinator Jeff Zients noted that while vaccinated people might get the new omicron variant, their cases will likely be mild at worst — especially if they have received a booster shot. He warned, "For the unvaccinated, you're looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm."

To avoid that, he told the nation, "There is action you can take to protect yourself and your family. Wear a mask in public indoor settings. Get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and get a booster shot when you're eligible."

In the days since, Republican lawmakers have cherry-picked phrases from the warning and attacked the administration for not being nice enough to those who are still refusing to get vaccinated.

Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas misattributed the comment to the president himself, tweeting, "Joe Biden is using dehumanizing language and creating two classes of citizenry based on private medical choices. He promised to be a president for all Americans — that includes vaccinated AND unvaccinated Americans."

"Real leadership is 'we' not 'us versus them,'" wrote Florida Sen. Rick Scott. "I urge President Biden to use his address today to deliver a unifying message and stop this disgraceful villainizing of fellow Americans."

"The Biden administration will kick you to the curb if you make the personal decision not to receive the COVID vaccine," tweeted Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw went even further, hyperbolically claiming that the Biden administration's message is "if you don't get vaccinated, prepare to die. Your loved ones too. They'll also die. Also you're a murderer."

New York Rep. Lee Zeldin argued that because some early reports suggest omicron may be less deadly for unvaccinated people too, "The WH should stop trying to inject fear & division throughout the US. Americans deserve the respect of HONEST straight talk."

But contrary to GOP suggestions that omicron is no big deal — Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia called it the "mild variant Omicron" — already at least one unvaccinated American has died after contracting the quickly spreading variant. A study conducted in the United Kingdom at the end of November and beginning of December found no evidence that omicron is milder than the delta variant.

While public health experts have warned they are still learning about the omicron variant, early indications are that vaccinated people are at lower risk of severe infection from it.

Those who have received a booster shot are likely to have significant protection against contracting the omicron variant, although about 20% less protection than against the delta variant, Dr. Egon Ozer of Northwestern University told the Associated Press.

In recent days, the number of cases and hospitalizations across the country has been spiking upward, with nearly 300,000 new cases reported Monday alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that 73% of the new cases last week were caused by the omicron variant, up from just 12.6% a week earlier.

Republicans have consistently opposed Biden's efforts to require that Americans at large workplaces either get vaccinated or get show a negative COVID-19 test every week.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.