WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday criticized politicians who refuse to say whether they’ve received a Covid booster shot.
In an interview with far-right cable channel One America News, Trump said he received the booster and has seen politicians get asked in interviews whether they’ve also gotten a third shot.
“They don’t want to say it because they’re gutless,” Trump said. “You gotta say it, whether you had it or not. Say it. But the fact is that I think the vaccines saved tens of millions throughout the world. I’ve had absolutely no side effects.”
Trump said that the Covid vaccine largely prevents people from being hospitalized or dying from the disease.
“If they get it, they’re not going to hospitals for the most part and dying,” Trump said. “Before it was a horror, and now they’re not.”
Trump’s latest comments appear to be partly an attempt to change the dialogue around vaccines and take credit for the effort. In the interview Trump referred to the pandemic response under his presidency, saying he had done “so well with therapeutics and, and vaccines and everything else and getting them done in record times,” although his administration’s rollout of vaccines was plagued by delays and shortages. During his time in office, the former president also publicly downplayed the virus’ impact and eschewed mandates on safety precautions such as mask-wearing.
Trump’s remarks in the interview also appeared to be in part to be directed at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered a possible Republican contender for president in 2024, who has so far refused to directly answer questions about whether he has received a booster shot.
A top Trump adviser who was not authorized to speak publicly about the former president’s state of mind said Trump is not particularly upset with DeSantis and was instead just speaking his mind.
“Actually, if you think about it, it plays to Trump’s strength and why voters were attracted to him to begin with — you may not like what he has to say, but he calls them like he sees them and doesn’t try to mince words like typical politicians,” the adviser said.
Asked about DeSantis as a challenger, the adviser pointed out that no poll shows him beating Trump in a theoretical 2024 matchup, and DeSantis’s evasive comments about getting a booster were damaging to the governor because it made him look evasive.
“Tough to be Trump 2.0 if you can’t be a straight shooter,” the adviser said.
“Responding to the remarks, DeSantis’ spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, said in an email: “President Trump did not mention Governor DeSantis in that interview, so I wouldn’t want to make assumptions.”
In a separate interview with NPR released Wednesday, in which he hung up on the host, Trump was asked what advice he would give to unvaccinated Americans.
Trump said the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates are “hurting our country” and that it has to start promoting and making therapeutics available. Administration officials have been touting new treatments that are intended to help patients with Covid.
Asked again about advice on the vaccines, Trump said he recommends taking them.
“But I think that has to be an individual choice,” he said. “And if some people don’t want, they shouldn’t have to take them. They can’t be mandated, as the expression goes. And I think that’s very important. Personally, I feel very comfortable having taken them. I’ve had absolutely no reverberation.”
Despite the comments, Trump has not encouraged his base of supporters to get vaccinated. At an event in December, he was booed by the audience after revealing he had received a booster shot.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine and about 63 percent has received two doses. About 37 percent of the population has also received a booster shot.
Rebecca Shabad is a congressional reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.