The American Independent Foundation asked every major candidate running for U.S. Senate in 2022 about their COVID-19 vaccination status.
At least six candidates running for U.S. Senate in 2022 remain unvaccinated against the coronavirus, an American Independent Foundation analysis shows.
All of the unvaccinated candidates are Republicans, conforming with trends showing a wide partisan gap in the United States' vaccination rate. Every Democratic candidate for Senate has received at least one COVID-19 shot.
There are 91 major Senate candidates running for office in 2022. That number includes incumbents seeking re-election, challengers seeking to replace those candidates, and individuals running in states with open seats.
Of those candidates identified, 50 had spoken publicly to their status as vaccinated against COVID-19 or were reported to be fully or partially vaccinated by other news organizations. Five had previously stated publicly that they were not vaccinated or were reported to be so. And the remainder had not commented on whether they had received the shots.
All U.S. senators seeking re-election are vaccinated except for two: Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rand Paul (R-KY). Johnson has yet to formally announce his re-election bid but is expected to seek another term. "I'm not going to get the vaccine," Johnson said in a recent interview with C-SPAN. He added that if members of Congress were required to get vaccinated, "I would just stop coming here."
Paul, like Johnson, has previously contracted the virus, and the two argue that grants them a so-called "natural immunity" such that they do not require vaccination. Though studies have shown that previous infection does provide some level of protection, the CDC still recommends that everyone eligible gets vaccinated against COVID-19. Moreover, a recent CDC study showed that unvaccinated Americans who previously contracted the virus were over five times more likely to get COVID again than those who were fully vaccinated.
Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who running to replace Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), told a local radio show in August that he was not vaccinated. He has also come under fire for not having a plan to get more people vaccinated. Greitens' campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries about his vaccination status.
Fellow Missouri Senate candidate Mark McCloskey has similarly refused to get vaccinated, according to the Missouri Independent. McCloskey rose to prominence after he and his wife brandished guns at protestors demonstrating in response to the murder of George Floyd. McCloskey recently suggested that people who refuse the vaccine would get "their name on a list" and would eventually "get eliminated." His campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries.
Mark Pukita, an Ohio IT executive seeking to replace Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), bragged in a GOP candidate forum earlier this month that he was the "only one up here" who was not vaccinated, though fellow GOP candidate Josh Mandell has refused to disclose his vaccination status and did not respond to multiple inquiries. Pukita may remain unvaccinated, but he holds up to $50,000 in Johnson & Johnson stock and up to $15,000 in Pfizer stock, two companies that manufacture COVID-19 vaccines.
Jason Beebe, who serves as mayor of Prineville, Oregon, and recently announced a long-shot bid to oust incumbent Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), confirmed to the American Independent Foundation in an email that he was unvaccinated. "I have talked with my doctor and am waiting for more testing and results," Beebe said.
Beyond those who have stated publicly or confirmed privately that they were unvaccinated, several leading candidates have refused to disclose their status altogether.
Herschel Walker, a retired football player running to unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), has refused to say if he is vaccinated. In October, Walker's campaign canceled a fundraiser with a conservative film producer whose Twitter profile picture showed a swastika made of needles. Walker's campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries about his vaccination status.
Senate candidate Marc Brnovich, who currently serves as Arizona's attorney general, has also refused to say whether he has been vaccinated. A reporter asked Brnovich about his vaccination status on Monday, to which he responded, "Have you had an STD?" Brnovich's campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries from the American Independent Foundation.
Public health officials are increasingly worried about a resurgence of COVID-19 cases heading into the winter months. Still, research has found that hesitant people may be persuaded to get vaccinated with the encouragement of local officials they know and trust, including their political representatives. Public opinion research has shown that as more conservative leaders come to support vaccines, so do their followers.
"If you can get Republican [leaders] to stand up for science, to stand up for public health, to stand up for vaccines, you're going to have an easier time convincing Republicans in public to do the same," Matt Motta, assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University, told the American Independent Foundation in August.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.