WASHINGTON—The new surge in positive coronavirus cases, caused by the viral plague’s Delta variant and a slow-down in the vaccination rate, is again exposing the fatal—literally—flaws in the U.S.’s profit-oriented health care “system,” critics say.
And two of the hazards at the center of the surge are ideology and money.
The rightists’ ideological campaign and subsequent widespread refusal to get vaccinated shows up in the coronavirus case numbers: The Centers for Disease Control reports 99.5% of all people newly hospitalized for the coronavirus were unvaccinated. Half of all U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated against the contagion, and another quarter or so have received one of the two needed shots.
But in right-wing states filled with millions of unvaccinated people, the virus is accelerating. CDC reported 40% of all new coronavirus hospitalizations occurred in just four states: Florida, Nevada, Missouri, and Arkansas. Florida, the nation’s third most populous state, alone accounted for half of that. Right-wingers control the legislature and the governor’s chair in all but Nevada.
The number of Floridian reported cases rose from 23,000 in the week ending July 9 to 45,000 the following week. On July 24, Florida hit a new daily high, 18,292. Floridian deaths rose, too.
Those unvaccinated also endanger the rest of the country. Though Los Angeles County, the nation’s most-populous, still leads the U.S. in cumulative numbers of people testing positive—1.28 million—its latest positive test figure was 6,114 on July 24. Its peak, last Dec. 16, was 45,920.
County officials are considering re-imposing masking and physical distancing requirements. Fewer Angelinos may be testing positive, but more of the rest of the country is—including people who fly into LAX, the city’s international airport.
The right-wingers wrap their campaign against masking, physical distancing, and, most importantly, vaccinations, in the buzzwords of “freedom”, “liberty” and “individual rights.”
As in freedom to go maskless, liberty to ignore public health standards, and the individual right to refuse vaccinations. Which endangers themselves and everybody else.
A pandemic of the unvaccinated
“This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on July 25.
By contrast, Andrew Brenner is typical of the anti-vaccination ideologues, including seizing on any excuse to prohibit people from getting shots in their arms.
Brenner a first-term Ohio GOP state senator, represents a deep-red district. He’s a realtor with no medical background. And he added a vaccine ban provision to a state budget bill—in a state where the Delta variant is causing caseloads to rise again.
Brenner’s move bans public schools and universities from mandating vaccines for faculty, staff, and especially students, unless the federal Food and Drug Administration has fully approved the vaccines.
“I’m looking at it from individual liberty,” Brenner said, according to the Associated Press.
The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines now being injected into peoples’ arms got emergency use authorization by the FDA. But “typical vaccines take about 10 years of trials and testing to know the side effects and everything,” the lawmaker added.
Fauci responds the testing was exhaustive, involving tens of thousands of people in each of many vaccine trials. He adds the FDA is on the verge of granting permanent OK to all three vaccines.
The radical right likes that vaccine chaos, which they abet by spreading lies and fake cures via social media platforms and cable news. Tucker Carlson, just to give one example, still rants and raves on Fox & Friends against any moves to control the virus. “Socialist,” he screams.
And AP reported on March 12—precisely a year after the CDC formally pronounced the coronavirus a pandemic—that Twitter would now take down accounts spreading anti-vaccine lines. It said it’s removed 8,400 tweets since April 2020.
But Imran Ahmed, CEO of the non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate, reports 62 million people follow anti-vaxxers on social media. He called the platforms “superspreaders of misinformation.” While social media did nothing, people were dying, Ahmed added.
The social media’s impact, including, according to one medical/psychological journal, that of former GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, is so pervasive that a quarter of the country that has refused to be vaccinated so far is obstinate in its continued refusal to do so, the latest Ipsos-Axios poll shows.
That includes hundreds of thousands of health care workers, including unionized health care workers.
Feelings not a secret
“I’ve made no secret of my feelings” that workers should be vaccinated, said Henry Garrido, whose AFSCME District Council 37 represents more than 100,000 New York municipal workers. It took until March of this year for the city to make his members, including the frontline workers in the city’s hospitals, eligible for the vaccine.
“Our workers put their lives on the line to deliver essential services and they deserved the vaccine long ago. Now that it’s finally been made available to them, we’re going to do all we can as a union to encourage our members to get the shot and make it as easy as possible for them to do so.” Meanwhile, 80% of New York’s unionized public school teachers and staff were fully vaccinated as of May 24.
And Associated Press reported earlier this year that a high share—in some cases one-third–of corrections officers, including unionized corrections officers in federal prisons, refuse to get vaccinated. Asked why, the responders cited what they accepted false information on the Internet, in other words, the right-wing lies.
Social media like the money that clicks and ads bring in from viewers and readers in thrall to the right-wing lies. This is why, until recently, they refused to take them down. Social responsibility? What’s that?
Ahmed’s center reported in June the global anti-vaccination industry, including influencers and followers, generates up to $1.1 billion in annual revenue for social media giants. “Anti-vaccine content creates a vast amount of engagement for leading technology platforms,” the center‘s report says. “The arrangement works both ways, with the anti-vax industry earning up to $36 million a year.”
The U.S. health care “non-system,” controlled by insurers’ pursuit of profits, also makes fighting the pandemic worse, says Dr. Susan Rogers, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, a pro-Medicare For All organization.
“Health insurance doesn’t provide care; they deny care,” she told the California League of Women Voters in March.
“It fragments the system so that we don’t work together. That is part of the problem with the pandemic. There was no cohesiveness. There was no sense that we need to work together to address this. Because every hospital was worried about them making money, every doctors’ group was worried about them keeping their jobs. Every other institution was worried about how they do they survive the pandemic. They weren’t worried about the pandemic. They were worried about still making money.”
“Your doctor tells you what you need to get, and then the insurance says well, that costs too much, or whatever. They are not going to allow you to get that. If you had a single-payer system, where the doctor said ‘This is what you need. OK… send the bill to the government who pays for it, then it is done.’
“You don’t need those other relationships. All they do is function as a middleman. They contribute to the administrative burden.”
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.