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Ex-President Trump pushes back on anti-vaccine talking points

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

When high-profile politicians were rolling up their sleeves last winter to get vaccinated and trying to convince the public that it was safe, former President Donald Trump was nowhere to be seen. But now, as NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports, in multiple recent appearances, he's been touting the COVID vaccines and even pushing back against misinformation about them.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Biden supporters are more likely to be vaccinated than Trump supporters, and since vaccines became widely available, pro-Trump counties have had a far higher death rate from COVID. It's with this backdrop that over the weekend, the former president, in an onstage conversation with former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, said he'd gotten his booster.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL O'REILLY: Did you get the booster?

DONALD TRUMP: Yes.

O'REILLY: I got it, too. OK, so...

TRUMP: Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't, don't. Don't - no, no.

KEITH: Those were faint boos you heard coming from the crowd. Trump had a message for those who oppose vaccines, which he described as a lifesaving scientific miracle.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Take credit for it. Take credit for - it's a great - what we've done is historic. Don't let them take away - don't take it away from ourselves. You're playing that - you're playing right into their hands.

KEITH: This prompted what is about as close as Trump gets to praise from President Biden, speaking Tuesday at the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Maybe one of the few things he and I agree on.

KEITH: Trump told Fox News he appreciated it, but he didn't stop there. In an interview with conservative activist Candace Owens, he stayed completely on message, rejecting the anti-vaccine talking points she lobbed at him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CANDACE OWENS: So people are questioning how...

TRUMP: We know the vaccine work.

OWENS: Yeah.

TRUMP: But some people aren't taking - the ones that get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don't take the vaccine. But it's still their choice. And if you take the vaccine, you're protected.

KEITH: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that although the administration appreciates Trump's message on getting vaccinated, they haven't reached out to collaborate with the former president, who also continues to push lies about fraud in the 2020 election.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANDBOOK'S "CAN'T TALK NOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.