Everything might have changed when the FDA finally granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. Our disappointing rate of vaccination could have surged sharply upwards and new cases would recede. We would approach the numbers of other countries where ordinary life has resumed. Peace between the vaxxed and unvaxxed would be at hand.
Or would it? At the same time the FDA was moving from emergency use authorization to the full Monty, it also tweeted out a statement reminding the public, “You are not a horse,” an alert that shouldn’t be needed by anyone not gobbling oats from a feed bag. But it’s clearly needed. An Ohio judge ordered a hospital to overrule a physician and treat an unvaccinated COVID patient in the ICU with a dewormer, even as the Department of Health in hard-hit Mississippi warned that 70 percent of the calls to its poison center were about the same livestock med.
Thanks to a Republican ruling class that’s concluded rising death tolls are preferable to the political risk of supporting coronavirus mandates, we are no longer the country that stood in line for Jonas Salk’s vaccine, even though, in its early days, it caused death and paralysis. Although Republicans cling to the 1950s on certain matters, like voting and Black people knowing their place, they’ve let doing what’s best for kids, and the neighbors’ kids, go the way of poodle skirts and Howdy Doody. The GOP elite has fallen in with the resisters.
Kristi Noem, South Dakota governor and rising GOP star, thought it would help her presidential prospects to wave an American flat atop a horse to promote a half-million bikers coming to this summer’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, as if that were a beacon of liberty rather than a potential superspreader. She’s not alone in believing that’s the way to the Oval Office. On Tuesday, Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis made good on his threat to withhold money from school districts who ignored his anti-school mask mandate without any data to support his edict. He asserts that the level of COVID exposure of unvaccinated children returning to school is no more than that of someone going to Home Depot to pick up a gallon of paint on Aisle Three, ignoring that—in his analogy—a child, whose natural state is to be socially un-distanced, is shopping for six straight hours.
He’s ignoring a frightening study out of the CDC this week that traced an outbreak in Marin County to an unvaccinated teacher, who read to her class without a mask (she self-diagnosed that allergies were causing her symptoms). That story led to 12 of her 21 students becoming infected, along with 15 others school-wide. Had there not been a 72 percent vaccination rate in the northern California suburb, it would have been worse.
Watching the elite of the GOP twist a public health crisis into an opportunity to pander to the base is about as shocking as discovering gambling in Casablanca. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott renewed an order last week to ban vaccine mandates. “There should be no mandates—zero—concerning COVID,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, trying to keep up. “That means no mask mandates, regardless of your vaccination status. That means no vaccine mandates. That means no vaccine passports.”
It’s not so easy to keep up these days. After Noem was criticized for the spike in cases after Sturgis, she shot back that the left was accusing her of “embracing death” when she was “just allowing people to make personal choices.”
Republican pols’ learned inability to comprehend the meaning of “public” in “public health” has spread into other formerly respected precincts where doctors don’t need a court order to do the wrong thing. Dr. Daniel Stock recently addressed Indiana’s Mt. Vernon County school board with a dumpster of meritless claims: masks for kids ineligible for the vaccine are no help; the recent surge is proof vaccines don’t work, a cocktail of drugs and supplements of your own making is preferable to what the government has approved. A Florida doctor has just been caught forging letters at $50 a pop confecting medical reasons a student can’t possibly wear a mask. Still at large are labs manufacturing ersatz vaccine passports for hundreds of dollars—mind you, the actual vaccine is free—purchased by some of the same people who would have immigrants with fake Green Cards arrested.
Despite all the resources poured into delivering the vaccines, we’re stuck in this cycle of coddling instead of calling out the resistors, as if they were toddlers who just need an inside voice and a treat to quell their tantrums. It’s not respect they want, it’s to rip that mask off your face. Convincing these elite-loathing zealots is going to take more than FDA authorization, warnings from the surgeon general, bulletins from the CDC, or a village. More than cajoling neighbors, a gift card, or a day off. More than an expansion of spot mandates targeted at captive audiences like travelers, employees, college students, sports fans, and federal workers.
Six leading voices of the anti-vaxx movement—including popular talk radio hosts Dick Farrel and Marc Bernier—died from their own stubborn ignorance. If a stampede of disillusioned listeners to their local CVS followed, it hasn’t been reported.
We’re so far in the hole that even if the three out of 10 resisters who told Kaiser Permanente they were waiting for final FDA approval to get their shots were to show up today, it wouldn’t get us to herd immunity or back to those few blessed weeks of normal life earlier this summer. With cold weather coming and the C.1.2 mutation showing up in South Africa, the rest of the Greek alphabet is poised to follow the Delta variant. No wonder the vaccinated are stockpiling toilet paper like it’s March of 2020, and the EU has just asked Americans to stay home.
It’s going to take a law, and why no one’s grasped that in the six months since the Pfizer emergency use authorization was issued is a mystery. Where’s the perspective? America has lost almost 700,00 lives to COVID, with a great and growing number of those due to the GOP-induced variant of “personal freedom.”
What to do now when the vulnerable include children tubed up in ICUs that can barely handle the influx? The only way forward is to override the states with an executive order. An army of ersatz patriots is sure to rise up against President Joe Biden, but with the air already thick with predictions that Afghanistan has rendered him a one-term president, why not do the right thing? Require the vaccine for all adults, with razor-thin exemptions and masks for those under 12 until they’re vaccine eligible, which could be by Thanksgiving.
Eventually it will be struck down by the McConnell-packed Supreme Court, but by then, a rush of people would have complied, some relieved to have an excuse to give dead-end family and friends for their heresy. In the meantime, the CDC can use its carrots more strategically, conditioning its grant-making authority on states mandating the right things, rather than the terribly wrong ones.
It’s not like Biden will be asking anyone to knock back bleach, hydroxychloroquine, or pellets meant for livestock. The mMRNA vaccine is a triumph of science. It’s a pinprick, with rare side effects, none serious. It can save us, but only if some among us are forced to take it.