McConnell keeps urging shots, but avoids comment on others' work

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell speaks at the University of Kentucky as Dr. Mark Newman, head of the hospital, listens.

LEXINGTON – At an event to announce a renewed four-year grant for the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences at the University of Kentucky, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell first congratulated the center, noting that this award is "extremely difficult to get" and then spent the rest of his time talking about the need for more people to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

"Honestly, my friends, it never occurred to me that we'd have a challenge getting people to take the vaccine, but that's where we are. Ninety percent of the people in the hospital are unvaccinated, we have a crisis of the unvaccinated. And so we're all I think perplexed as to how we tackle this problem. But clearly getting more and more Americans vaccinated is the only way to end it."

He then went on to encourage people to collectively talk to their friends and relatives and encourage them to get vaccinated.

Asked why he hasn't pushed back on some in his own party who have helped fuel skepticism about masks and vaccines, McConnell said it "wouldn't serve any purpose to start criticizing others" and said that he has been clear in letting people know what he thinks is the right thing to do, which is to get vaccinated.

McConnell said decisions about requiring employees to get vaccinated need to be left up to employers and school boards. "They can weigh the evidence, look at the effectiveness and make a decision," he said.

Asked if he had had direct conversations with his fellow Republican lawmakers to nudge them to publicly support vaccinations, McConnell didn't answer directly but said he has been "quite vocal" about his opinions on this matter, so he thinks everybody knows how he feels about it.

In a later press conference at Millersburg, McConnell declined to repeat what he said on July 15, 2020, that he had "total" confidence in Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci has come under fresh attack by Sen. Rand Paul and others in recent months.

Asked the same question, his level of confidence in Fauci, McConnell replied, "Oh, look. I've said, Al, the same thing over and over and over for months. We know the vaccine works, we know this is largely a rising epidemic among the unvaccinated, and without getting into an argument about who's the best health-care adviser out there, it doesn't make any difference. We know the vaccine works, we know the people who are not vaccinated are the ones who are in the hospitals."

At UK, McConnell told reporters that "money is not the problem" when it comes to dealing with the pandemic, including the most recent surge in hospitalizations, pointing to the most recent $1.9 trillion rescue plan passed earlier this year. Instead, he said, "The reluctance of people to get vaccinated is the problem."

This is the third time the UK center has received federal support for its research, now totaling $65.4 million since 2011.

With a focus on Appalachia, the center provides support for all types of health research, including pilot funding, training and career development for the next generation of translational researchers, a full spectrum of research support services, community engagement resources, multidisciplinary mentors and connections to local and national research networks, a UK news release said.

After the pandemic hit, the center established a Covid-19 biobank, launched pilot funding to address issues related to the virus and launched a "hugely successful" Johnson & Johnson vaccination trial that became the top enrolling site in the world for the final trial that led to the emergency-use authorization for the vaccine and paved the way for more Covid vaccine trials. 

(By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross, Kentucky Health News)