It’s Thursday night, three weeks after Thanksgiving, and the Covid cases keep surging. Locally, the state of Alabama is pushing towards 4,300 deaths (out of a population of 4.9 million – nearly one in a thousand and almost certain to pass that mark around the end of the year), UAB hospital, which was handling about a hundred inpatient cases a day prior to the fall surge, is nearing two hundred inpatient cases, and pretty much every hospital in the region is short on ICU beds and on staffing for those beds. The health care providers of my acquaintance, especially those who work inpatient, are all exhausted and the numbers keep going up. The transmissions from Thanksgiving travel won’t peak in terms of hospitalization for another few weeks yet, probably sometime around New Years, just in time for the tide of infections linked to holiday get togethers starts to rise. The outlook is pretty bleak until spring.
And here I sit in an emotional state of righteous anger. I’m sure there’s some perfect Yiddish word for it – all the best words for the peaks and valleys of human feelings seem to be Yiddish (one of my Jewish friends may be able to help me out). A lot of times when I’ve sat down to right these pieces in recent months, I’ve been sad. Sometimes I’ve been bemused. Tonight, I’m just pissed. It comes from a number of places but mainly out of the sorts of reporting that I have been seeing over the last forty-eight hours. The news isn’t all bad. The first people are getting the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, primarily my health care brothers and sisters on the front lines in emergency rooms, Covid wards, and intensive care units. But even that process is causing a certain amount of anger to boil up.
The initial batch of Pfizer vaccine shipped over this past weekend and was more or less set to go early this week. The storage requirements of super cold freezers able to maintain -80 degrees C have limited where it can go and how it can be distributed. For instance, the doses UAB received, as it’s the only local hospital with the proper freezers, need to go to people at every hospital system in the region and the logistics of getting them here to get vaccinated is proving quite complicated and requiring a lot of planning and triaging of which health care workers need to be vaccinated first. This is leading to some sniping between colleagues (I have seen social media posts along the lines of ‘Why did he/she get one before me, he/she only sees patients once a week when I see them every day’) which is unhelpful and uncalled for. There would be more vaccine to go around but for the ineffectiveness of our current federal government. Pfizer has new shipments ready to go but, in a press release today, they stated they cannot ship as the federal government has yet to contact them to tell them where to send it. What???? This is just the first of many things making me blow a gasket or two.
It struck me as somewhat insane that during a pandemic with the first potentially helpful tool for fighting it available, that the federal government would somehow drop the ball and not think beyond the first shipment. But then the cynical part of my brain realized that today was also the day that the Moderna mRNA vaccine was considered by the FDA for emergency approval. It passed committee and, if the process goes like it did last week, will be granted Emergency Authorization for Use tomorrow and ship over the weekend and be available next week. That would put two very similar competing products in play. However, the Pfizer product was not part of the administration’s Warp Speed funding and was developed in Germany and Moderna, as an American company, has a lot of very well connected individuals on its board and among its major shareholders who stand to benefit greatly if it gets a greater market share and I can’t help but wonder if the ineffectual distribution of the Pfizer vaccine is deliberate to help that happen. After it was revealed that Senators Perdue and Loeffler (both trying to retain their seats in the Georgia run offs), used their knowledge to divest travel related stocks and buy stock in companies specializing in body bags, I put nothing past the ruling class and their monetizing of catastrophe. I can’t find my source on that last one, so someone please fact check me if I’m spreading propaganda.
Of course, the thing that I am the most livid about also concerns money. The communications from this past summer between the White House and the CDC that have been passed along to the press show that when science conflicted with a message of we needed to open for business, the messaging always trumped the science. Much that we needed to know was suppressed. There was a very deliberate attempt by the highest levels of the executive branch to institute a policy of infect the entire country for ‘herd immunity’. There were fundamental misunderstandings of just what herd immunity is and how it actually works but the impression that bursts forth from all of this is a callous disregard for anyone other than the small circles that operate inside the Beltway and they weren’t worried about themselves as, should they happen to fall ill, they would have treatment and support available to them not available to most of the country so their chances of death or disability would be negligible. The fact that mainly older people were dying was seen as a good thing financially as there are big savings to social programs if you kill off senior citizens.
It’s time for some quick math here. The current elder generation becomes eligible for Social Security and Medicare at age 65. Current life expectancy in the US is roughly 79 years so 14 years total benefit. The average social security monthly benefit is $1,400.66 per person and the average annual Medicare spending per beneficiary is $10,229. That comes out to $27,037 a year in federal spending per person on just those two programs, or $378,517 per person over an average life span. Roughly 60% of fatal Covid cases in the United States are the over 65 group. To date, there have been 310,434 deaths. So, the 186,260 deaths of retirees, at $27,037 savings annually, is so far saving 5.036 billion dollars a year in future benefits and somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-40 billion overall. And we’re adding 300,000 cases and 3,500 deaths on a daily basis (an additional savings of $57 million annually in benefits a day). We haven’t even begun to crest the peak so these numbers, are going to swell significantly. Don’t think for a minute that every Republican Senator and party consultant hasn’t jotted similar figures on the back of an envelope somewhere.
Generally, when a government asks a people to sacrifice, particularly themselves (such as during war time), there needs to be a thorough airing of the issues at hand and the government needs to get the spirit of the governed behind the policy so that they will be willing to endure the pain of what must be endured for a greater good. That’s not what we’ve had here. We’ve had a deliberate campaign of lies, disinformation, suppression of fact, and general bullcrap which has succeeded in splitting the country into two factions, one that is trying to do the right thing by fellow citizens, and one which is living in a state of denial. Neither side has been given good information by their government so they can come together to make informed choices. This isn’t the spirit of World War II, this is more akin to the US distributing small pox infected blankets to native tribes – an incident that almost certainly never actually occurred. However, what we’re experiencing now is all too shockingly real.