When I saw Dr. Anthony Fauci rolling up the sleeve of his blue button-down, averting his eyes (don’t we all) and getting inoculated with other health-care workers, my first thought was: I’ll have what he’s having. My second: It’s time to divert some of our worry over those resisting the vaccine to those all too eager to get it, like me.
There are CDC guidelines setting priorities: frontline workers and those in nursing homes, followed by essential workers, the elderly and on down the line until you get to prisoners who don’t have a prayer. States take over from there—remember how well that went for testing?—and their plans are vague. One state speaks of a “living document” (we can change it) of evolving public-private partnerships (corporations, especially ones with lobbyists, are essential people too my friend), sub-stratification of groups (an insurance adjuster is just a memo to the file away from a postal worker), and independent pharmacies (servicing the concierge trade that makes house calls for $10,000 extra a year).Talk to doctors and regulators and they concede, it’s largely an honor system.
That’s fine. We are good people who wouldn’t elbow our way in front of a hospital orderly if he were right in front of us. But after that, I could see, for instance, the young and healthy Jared and Ivanka as early consumers. In his role of failed real estate investor, Kushner had no compunction about taking advantage of the CARES Act. Does anyone think Javanka, along with household staff and drivers, won’t jump the line to fly to a warmer spot to swim, or a colder one to ski, during the holidays?
Photos of line jumpers have already set Twitter on fire. The pictures were of virus-skeptical Sens. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Joni Ernst getting inoculated under a continuity of government exception but blasted, nonetheless, on grounds of general hypocrisy and cynicism—the less continuity of them the better. Ernst once suggested that the high coronavirus case count came from doctors exaggerating infections to make more money. It didn’t help that none of the newly vaccinated supported a measly $600 for those suffering losses during the pandemic until they feared the GOP would lose two runoff races in Georgia without it.
In the House, after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez put her shot on Instagram, there was a rare instance of internecine Squad-on-Squad warfare. Without naming AOC, Rep. Ilhan Omar called it “shameful” that young, healthy lawmakers were going ahead of those who’ve risked their lives like every hospital worker, EMT, cop, fire fighter, teacher, janitor, grocery clerk and pharmacist.
We know how privilege works in this crisis now that Rudy Giuliani boasted about the special treatment he got for being a celebrity friend of Donald Trump. At first symptoms, he landed a scarce hospital bed which meant he could get treated with a monoclonal antibody that can only be administered intravenously. At 76, Rudy, who didn’t miss a superspreader party, was up and about in three days.
This shouldn’t happen with the vaccine, although it already is. CNBC’s Robert Frank reported that the same concierge doctors to the rich, who got access to testing no one else could get, are now “working their connections to see how quickly they can get the vaccine.” There are about 200 million people in queue before the under-65 healthy and wealthy and with the expected snafus, it could be summer before they get theirs. After his report, Frank was asked if someone would pay $50,000 to get the vaccine. “The wealthy,” he answered, “will pay anything.”
An exaggeration, let’s hope but the pandemic has greatly exacerbated class differences. With their naturally socially distanced circumstances—large houses, remote work, domestic help and Instacart, the advantaged have a massively better chance of survival. Couple that with a sheaf of studies showing that the wealthy are less ethical and proportionately less generous, and place a higher value on their own importance and continued well-being, and you can see the opening for mischief. How else to explain the parents in Hollywood and Greenwich who turned into monsters to get their darlings into elite schools.
There would be less to fear if we had a functioning president, instead of one sending a record-breaking number of tweets and a video throwing a wrench into the stimulus bill at the last minute. What a difference it would make if he went to the Situation Room to see that the first doses got to their destination and hadn’t nixed a second shipment because he miscalculated his bargaining power. No one would mind if he took a victory lap over Operation Warp Speed if he would also give a “we’re all in this together” talk from the Oval Office, invoking Rosie the Riveter and how in America a vaccine doesn’t go to the highest bidder. He should promise that line jumpers will be savagely shamed—finally a good use of his Twitter account.
The real shame is that we know we have a president who would toss a baby aside to get a seat in a lifeboat and who will get his friends and family vaccinated early, right after he grants them pardons. In just 30 days, he will leave us to our better angels. What a gift.