U.S. Sen Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., on Tuesday discussed Alabama's low vaccination rate with Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, and advised that publicly giving more credit to former President Donald Trump for the rapid development of the vaccine would encourage more conservative skeptics to take it.
The exchange came during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Alabama's junior senator questioned the federal government's top health officials on a range of pandemic issues and urged them to adopt a message that appeals to Trump supporters who are skeptical of the Biden administration.
"I think people need a unifying message from all of us because, in my state of Alabama, we don’t have everyone taking a vaccine, and we're having outbreaks as we speak,” Tuberville told Fauci. "You know, a lot of people voted for Donald Trump — a lot of people in the South, a lot of people in my state.
“So Dr. Fauci, can you understand that unless this Administration acknowledges the efforts of the last one, a large part of Americans, they're going to continue to feel like nothing's positive. They're not going to take the vaccine. You understand what I'm saying?”
Fauci told Tuberville that the Trump administration "deserves a considerable amount of credit" for the development of the vaccine.
"I understand exactly what you're saying, senator, and that's a very appropriate question that I'm pleased to answer," Fauci said. "Having been present through the last year… I can tell you that no doubt the former Administration deserves a considerable amount of credit for the effort that was put into Operation Warp Speed, that was able to allow not only the rapid development and testing, but also the implementation of the vaccine.
"We are dealing with a common enemy," Fauci continued. "The virus doesn't know if you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent. The virus just knows that it makes people ill and kills people. And we have an extraordinarily efficient tool to defeat that common enemy in the vaccine."
The message of unity to defeat the virus seemed well-received by Tuberville, who concluded with some coaching advice.
“Positive attitude plus effort equals performance," the former football coach said. "And if we keep that positive attitude, we can get through this thing. We just need to quit fighting in the media and get everybody believing in the same thing. We're all on the same team.”
As of this week, 1.9 million Alabamians had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine with 1.57 million being fully vaccinated, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. That leaves Alabama with a vaccination rate of 33.7 percent, which ranks lowest in the country.
Older residents are much more likely to get vaccinated. ADPH data shows that 75.6 percent of those aged 65-74 have taken at least one vaccine dose and 75.3 percent of those 75 and older have taken it.
Currently, the state is seeing an uptick in hospitalizations due to the virus. As of Tuesday, 554 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, up from just 166 a month ago.