The Republican front-runner in the race for the U.S. Senate in Georgia and one of his GOP rivals declined to say whether they had received the coronavirus vaccine, as the spread of the omicron variant sharpened scrutiny of the nation’s ongoing struggles to contain COVID-19.
Former football star Herschel Walker wouldn’t say whether he has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, though he credited the vaccines for helping “turn a corner in this pandemic.” Kelvin King, a contractor, also said his vaccination status should remain private.
They stand out among the Georgia candidates for marquee offices. Each of the three leading candidates for governor — incumbent Brian Kemp, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams — all confirmed they’ve been vaccinated.
So did Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and two other Republicans running in the Senate contest: Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler.
Georgia’s hospitals are bracing for a new surge in coronavirus cases as the omicron variant sweeps through the nation, and state leaders are under new pressure to blunt a fifth wave of the disease that coincides with the holiday season.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reinstated the city’s indoor mask mandate to curb the spread of the disease, drawing criticism from both Kemp and Perdue over coronavirus restrictions they depict as too onerous.
Kemp has repeatedly urged Georgians to talk to a medical provider about the benefits of getting the vaccine and the booster, even as he brings court challenges against President Joe Biden’s efforts to mandate that millions of Americans get inoculated.
Perdue, who is challenging Kemp with the support of former President Donald Trump, took a similar stance by encouraging Georgians to talk to their physicians “and make the decision that is best for them.”
“Perdue trusts the people of Georgia to make their own decisions and believes no one should ever be forced by the government to take the COVID-19 vaccine,” his campaign said.
Critics of that approach, including some public health experts and Democrats, note that many Georgians don’t have primary care physicians and call for a more unequivocal stance toward vaccination.
Abrams has repeatedly urged Georgians to get vaccinated and directed the political organizations she founded to fight vaccine hesitancy, sending organizers from the Fair Count group door to door to encourage residents to get their shots.
A recent report from the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed those who are vaccinated and boosted are 20 times less likely to die from the disease than those who have not received the shots.
King’s and Walker’s refusals to disclose their status contrast with Trump, who was peppered with boos in Dallas this month after he revealed he had received a booster shot.
King said he supports more antibody testing and “studies on natural immunity,” though he said he wouldn’t offer advice to any Georgians on whether to get the shot.
Walker raised eyebrows in September when he seemed to show support for performer Nikki Minaj after her false tweet about the coronavirus vaccine causing swollen testicles went viral. The Republican encouraged Minaj and others to be “inquisitive” about the treatments.
In his memoir, the former pro football player has also indicated his skepticism with medical treatments, writing that he’s “not taken any kind of medication in my life with the exception of a few mild over-the-counter pain relievers.”
Walker said in a statement that he’s running for office because “important decisions like this should be between doctors and patients.”
“I’d encourage every Georgian to reach out to your doctor and have that conversation,” he said, “and make the decision that is best for you and your family.”
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