Monday, July 19, 2021

Pathologizing the Unvaccinated

Forget the Covid-19 pandemic. The top public health official in the United States has just announced that the real disease is people: specifically, the estimated 47 percent of the population that, for whatever reason, remains unvaccinated. 

"This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who nonetheless calls for the reopening of all public schools this fall despite the fact that children under the age of 12 are still not allowed to receive the shots. Does this mean that she also considers kids to be a disease?

Even if one were to dismiss Walensky's appalling statement as merely a poor choice of words, the fact remains that words do matter. Pathologizing minorities and oppressed groups of people is a hallmark of cruel, totalitarian regimes. The Nazis in Germany referred to Jews as viruses and vermin before eradicating six million of them in death camps. The Hutus called the Tutsis cockroaches before the Rwanda genocide. Closer to home, it was common and socially acceptable little more than a century ago to label native Americans and Black people as subhuman, the better to kill, displace, and enslave them. And only few years ago, in a pre-woke New York Times article about mass immigration from France to England, Muslim refugees fleeing from American forever-wars were likened to rats trying to force their way through tunnels. They were a "festering" problem migrating from "squalid" unsanitary camps in order, the reader might infer, to infest cleaner climes. Even after Yours Truly wrote a critical comment and the Times revised the piece, they still used the term "illegal migrants" to describe the refugees. They still called human beings illegal, thus dehumanizing them. And the liberal reader commentariat dutifully followed suit.

For his own part, President Biden is strategically accusing the data-thieving Facebook monopoly of "killing people" by allowing misinformation about the Covid vaccines to be published on its platform. This is at the very same time that the White House admits flagging posts it doesn't like so that Facebook, its erstwhile partner in oligarchic governance, can patriotically remove them. Censorship, even if for a putative "good cause," is still censorship. The suppression of Covid public discourse is just a gateway drug, leading to even more censorship. 

Now, about those 150 million-plus Americans who remain unvaccinated or only partly vaccinated. Contrary to liberal urban legend, they aren't all white anti-mask Red state Trump supporters thumbing their noses at Science just to be ornery.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Black and Hispanic people have consistently lower vaccination rates across all 50 states, leaving them at massively elevated risk for severe illness and death, especially with the emergence of the more contagious Delta variant. This is in keeping with the historical lack of health care services to these communities. It's also keeping with the structural racism now finally being acknowledged by the Newly Woke. The CDC's own  recommendations for more racial and ethnic equity as regards vaccine availability make Dr. Wolensky's characterization of the unvaccinated as a walking pandemic in their own right sound all the more cruel.

The CDC reports demographic characteristics, including race/ethnicity, of people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at the national level. As of July 4, 2021, CDC reported that race/ethnicity was known for 58% of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among this group, nearly two thirds were White (59%), 9% were Black, 16% were Hispanic, 6% were Asian, 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and <1% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, while 8% reported multiple or other race. However, CDC data also show that recent vaccinations are reaching larger shares of Hispanic, Asian, and Black populations. Thirty-four percent of vaccines administered in the past 14 days have gone to Hispanic people, 6% to Asian people, and 12% to Black people These recent trends suggest a narrowing of racial gaps in vaccinations at the national level, particularly for Hispanic people, who have recently received a larger share of vaccinations compared to their share of the total population (34% vs. 17%).  While these data provide helpful insights at a national level, to date, CDC is not publicly reporting state-level data on the racial/ethnic composition of people vaccinated.

In California, for example, 29 percent of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic people, who account for 63 percent of cases, 48 percent of deaths and 40 percent of the population in the state. In New York, Black people have accounted for only 12 percent of vaccinations and 21 percent of Covid deaths.

Across the 40 states that provided racial and ethnic statistics, according to the KFF article, "the percent of White people who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose (47%) was roughly 1.4 times higher than the rate for Black people (34%) and 1.2 times higher than the rate for Hispanic people (39%) as of July 6, 2021." (their bold.) As of July 6, less than half of Black and Hispanic people in the 40 reporting states had received even one dose of vaccine.

Shaming the unvaccinated or the inadequately vaccinated on social media or elsewhere will likely only make the politically-motivated holdouts all that more stubborn and more resentful than they already are when liberal "elites" lecture them and call them names.

Meanwhile, crushing poverty, the lack of transportation to get to a vaccine site, the inability to get time off from work, chronic health issues such as allergies, the logical assumption that previous infection with Covid grants them at least partial immunity are just some of the myriad reasons why millions of people have not gotten the shots.

Rather than shame or even pathologize the unvaccinated, as Dr. Walensky cluelessly has, why not give people the benefit of the doubt? Why not show a bit of empathy for a change? Why not ramp up community outreach, both at homes and workplaces? Why not just give people money rather than cut them off from their unemployment benefits and arbitrarily discontinue the national eviction moratorium?

As bad and irresponsible an actor that Facebook is, it is not, as Joe Biden claims, literally killing people. It's our profit-motivated, ever more consolidated health care "industry" and its structurally racist, classist, unequal delivery system that's literally killing people. Not for nothing do economists Anne Case and Angus Deacon (Deaths of Despair) call this industry "a cancer that has metastasized throughout the economy."

It should come as no surprise, then, that drug overdose deaths in the United States increased by 30 percent in 2020, the first pandemic year, making it the largest increase ever recorded

 Medicare For All might be cruelly off the table, and if you're poor you're bound to die a lot younger. But Uncle Joe wants you to know that the only thing you have to fear is Facebook disinformation and China beating America in the war for global oligarchic supremacy.


Jay–Ottawa said...

Could it be that the vaccination picture is another reflection of the class war? If so, the silver bullet might be to get a steady, continuous living income into the hands of every family.

The money’s there, Dear Pay As You Goers: in the War Budget, in the Wall Street Casino, in the Corporate Welfare Handouts, in one round after another of Quantitative Easing, in the Private Healthcare Insurance Racket.

Call our troops home, tax every transaction on Wall Street, pass a progressive income tax, halt the printing of QE$ for banksters, M4A please, and a $20 minimum wage.

And let the infrastructure projects become a job boom funded and managed closely and directly by federal and local government supervisors dedicated to infrastructure renewal (as distinct from blowing the money directly from the Treasury into the pockets of private contractors with no close oversight of the projects before, during or after DC showers such grants upon the impresarios).

Spare me more identity politics and religious tugawars. Money is the problem; money is the solution. All we gotta do is spread it kinda even all the way around.

Mark Thomason said...

In today's NYT, Bret Stephens urges Biden to tell the unvaccinated that they are "on their own" by their choice, so expect no help if they get sick.

That is nasty: It really means, "Just go off and die."

Abandoning people is the overt project of some.

Now in that context, we see open attacks on the unvaccinated, demonizing worthy of what is done to Putin or China.

It would save money.

I support vaccines and getting vaccinated. It is important. But attacks on our own, threats, leaving some to die without help, that is disgusting behavior. It is also current behavior.

Erik Roth said...

Apropos ...

"ICU in September"

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post and this website. I just culled another website that I used to enjoy from my blogroll because of a post and attendant comments that felt like a lynch mob against the unvaccinated.

Jay–Ottawa said...

With universal healthcare and an end to the range of economic disparities, the US population would be much healthier, much smarter. As suggested in Karen's post, the system deserves the blame more than its victims. Still, some of those willingly unvaccinated are not poor, rural, uneducated, incapacitated, etc. Can we at least blame them?

A friend, who had been vaccinated, foolishly supposed he was protected by a golden shield. He recently visited with family –– it's a big family –– where at least one of them, his brother, was a loud-mouthed, right-wing antivaxxer. Well, this friend recently wrote that he had come home and promptly came down with Covid-19, the Delta variant. His symptoms, heavy coughing and inability to sleep because of breathing problems, went away after a couple of days. Oh, and his wife, an MD who had stayed home, also came down with the Delta variant.

After she recovered, she continued to be as put out with the unvaxxed as Dr Walensky. This is what she wrote in a public email to the entire family:

Yes, thank you non vaccinated folks around the world - your selfishness has consequences...for people at diminish community levels of immunity and create opportunities for mutations…like the alpha, beta, gamma and delta Covid19 variants and you travel to our countries, worldwide with your narrow minded politically related optics….
so even responsible people who get vaccinated…(gratefully having acquired some immunity from their Pfizer or other vaccines) ….reap the negative effects of your selfish, highly unchristian approaches … like [my husband] and me who have now Covid19 delta INFECTIONS….

.... look at the southern republican states where many unvaccinated people between 20-50 years are on VENTILATORS NOW FIGHTING FOR THEIR LIVES. 

….. if u had syphilis, TB, polio, chlamydia, YOU would HAVE TO BE TREATED for the benefit of society.
It is called public health policy.
It is called human decency.
Let us hope you can open your hearts, right now mine is freaking the heck out…to see beyond your own umbilicus.

Yup….get vaccinated, wear your masks, distance, stay safe.

And this is what my friend added to his wife's rant:
just read that here in [European country], young doctors are suiciding at the rate of 1 every 18 days, which is unspeakably tragic.  Not only are they overwhelmed by the demands of their work, they also have to face the sheer idiocy of accusations that covid is a hoax, though millions have died.  That’s millions of families mourning the loss of loved ones.

Look at Dr Walensky's bio on Wiki. She’s a smart cookie who has done good work for years in her specialty. I'd say she is one of Biden's best appointments. She cannot correct all the rotten systems that took the US where it is, with about half the population still unvaccinated and unlikely to get vaccinated. No slouch she, Walensky is speaking out and reshaping the systems she can control. She probably gets as angry and fed up as the Dr-victim I quoted above.

On some days, because of what others in the Administration are doing or not doing and because of the stubborn ignorance across the country, I imagine her throwing her overflowing inbox across the office. Understandable. I'm not ready to cancel her. I hope that tigress, imperfect as she may be is seen as an ally and finds some way to lower the number of hosts giving variants more time and more welcoming cells to make more variants.

At least another year of masks, distancing and curtailed socializing. Roll up your sleeves for those “booster” shots, i.e., new vaccines to address the latest variants. It ain’t nowhere near over.

Jay–Ottawa said...

BTW, Erik, good link.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Matt Taibbi published an article today tracking Karen's reasoning about the futility of snobbery plus scolding as a fulcrum for raising the vaccination rates among the less educated and less wealthy...and long screwed over by the educated and rich blue zones.

This is the same political story that’s dominated America since Trump arrived. Why did Americans vote for such a truth-challenged candidate? Because they trusted the political aristocracy less. How did the aristocrats respond to that damning message sent at the ballot box? They doubled the lies and doubled the scolding, increasing the mistrust. Is anyone going to bother trying to break this cycle?

Objectively, getting vaccinated is a good idea. But the authorities (i.e., moneyed and well educated) have a big trust issue to overcome from the people they have been treating like dirt. Why should populations in poor counties (over 2,000 counties) trust the snobs in rich counties (around 500)?

It's all about trust and mistrust. When the upper classes win back the trust (HA!) of the lower classes –– with big deeds not words –– everybody will get vaccinated. No finger shaking needed. It's about the di$paritie$, i.e., the class war.