December 2, 2020
Greenville We’re about to have an interesting national test in the United States, and much of the world, that will determine exactly how unequal our societies really are, or, if we pass, how just we are in valuing all lives equally. I’m talking about the distribution of a scarce resource, and for a change that’s not simply money or food, but vaccines becoming available soon to deal with the novel coronavirus.
Distribution has already begun from both Pfizer and Moderna to individual states who will have the final say on the ground about distribution priorities, but even as vaccines become available, they will not be sufficient for everyone, which means groups will have to be prioritized. The independent advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control has now issued its first opinion, that many states are likely to follow. Their 13-1 vote was that nursing home residents and staff and similar long-term care facilities that have been hotspots should be first on the list. Frankly, that’s good news for Local 100 members in these facilities where our union has been distributing PPE for the last many months. According to the Times,
The roughly three million people living in long-term care and those who care for them are a relatively clear target; 39 percent of deaths from the coronavirus have occurred in such facilities, according to an analysis by The New York Times. But states and health systems will ultimately have to decide which of the nation’s 21 million health care workers should qualify to receive the first doses, as there won’t be enough at first for everyone.
Does that mean that housekeeping and dietary staff in nursing homes that are least protected, but often most exposed will also be at the front of the line? Will they be ahead of the administrators, bookkeepers, and even social workers, who have limited contact with clients? I wonder.
Remember two things clearly.
First, we’re talking about the front of the line in perhaps January, not the ones to follow in March as production ramps up, or the rest of us, by the summer. The governor of Kentucky put a finer point on it. He says they have 38,000 doses in the first expected shipment with about 200,000 health care workers in his state and the second shipment maybe three weeks later. In the most optimistic production schedule, since everyone will require two doses there would only be enough for “55 million people at most through the end of January — about 22 percent of the nation’s roughly 255 million adults.” The next in line might be teachers, daycare workers, and others, perhaps those over 65 or with underlying conditions, and then the general population by summer.
Who believes that the Wall Streeters, billionaires, and millionaires are going to be patiently waiting at the back of the line with most of America, not to count the world? And, this is where the second thing is worth remembering, that this warp speed advance of possible vaccines is being almost totally funded by taxpayer money with billions spent in advance to buy the doses that allowed the drug companies to speed up the research, pay for testing, and now production without risk.
Will the big whoops and the rich be forced to wait in line for this public good paid for overwhelmingly by public dollars from all of us, and precious little from them, thanks to their tax accountants, or will they figure out a way to jump ahead? It’s life and death for everyone, so we’ll finally get to see how much equity and justice is left in American society, and whether the government can enforce and ensure this in the distribution of these vaccines.