Fox News host Sean Hannity had a message for viewers of his primetime show on Monday night: “Please take Covid seriously.”
The influential host, a close ally of Donald Trump, also said: “I believe in science, I believe in the science of vaccination.”
Nearly 609,000 people have died in the coronavirus pandemic in the US but vaccination rates have slowed amid resistance among conservative sections of the population, stoked by rightwing politicians and media.
As the infectious Delta variant causes cases to rise, federal officials have said more than 99% of deaths are among unvaccinated people. At the White House on Friday, Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said: “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Hannity has voiced support for science and vaccines before but his message still made news. Fox News has been widely criticised for casting doubt on vaccines.
Last week, the New York Times reported on statements made by two of the most influential anchors, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Carlson said a Biden administration plan to offer vaccinations door to door was meant to “force people to take medicine they don’t want or need” and called the initiative “the greatest scandal in my lifetime, by far”.
On Monday night, he said Walensky’s statement about a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” was “simply untrue”.
But change seemed to be in the air in some studios, as hosts Steve Doocy and Bill Hemmer made statements in support of vaccination and so – after referring critically to a ruling which upheld a vaccination requirement for students in Indiana – did Hannity.
“Just like we’ve been saying,” he said, “please take Covid seriously. I can’t say it enough. Enough people have died. We don’t need any more deaths.
“Research like crazy, talk to your doctor, your doctors, medical professionals you trust based on your unique medical history, your current medical condition, and you and your doctor make a very important decision for your own safety. Take it seriously.
“You also have a right to medical privacy, doctor-patient confidentiality is also important.
“And it absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science, I believe in the science of vaccination.”
But vaccine skepticism or resistance remains common at Fox News. On Monday morning, Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade said: “Listen, if you didn’t get a vaccination, that’s your choice, but if you did, like I did and they did and maybe you did, then you should not wear a mask.
“And if you did and if you want to go cliff diving this weekend, you don’t have to check with me.”
Kilmeade also argued that the federal government is not meant to protect Americans.
“That is not their job,” Kilmeade said. “It’s not their job to protect anybody.”
Doocy said: “If you have the chance, get the shot, it will save your life.”
Hannity has said he has been vaccinated. Carlson has not and has told reporters it is a private matter, asking one writer in return: “When was the last time you had sex with your wife and in what position?”
Fox News hosts have criticised the idea of “vaccine passports”, a catch-all term for measures by which proof of vaccination is required and a target for rightwing politicians and media. Carlson has called such measures the medical equivalent of Jim Crow laws, under which racial segregation was enforced in the US south.
On Monday, CNN reported that Fox News has “quietly” introduced vaccine passports at its own offices, having “developed a secure, voluntary way for employees to self-attest their vaccination status”.
CNN also said there have been several high-level conversations between Fox News and the White House regarding the network’s coverage of vaccines. But a Fox News spokesperson denied that description.
“CNN’s reporting is inaccurate. There have been no high-level conversations between Fox News Media and the White House regarding our coverage. We had one routine briefing with the White House in early May on vaccination rates and our DC bureau personnel are regularly in touch with them on a variety of issues, as is the case with every other network.”