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It Didn't Have To Be This Way On July 4th
Donald Trump

It Didn't Have To Be This Way On July 4th


It's July 4th, and the United States appears to have narrowly missed President Joe Biden's goal of ensuring that 70% of adults have received at least one dose of vaccine by now; however, the main issue isn't availability; it's public interest.

Many people who could receive the vaccine do not, in a distinctly political pattern that explains a lot about why COVID-19 has been so lethal in the United States, and why it did not have to be.

The 20 states that have reached Biden's threshold are mostly on the coasts, and they all voted for Biden in the 2020 election. At the very top are Massachusetts and Vermont, two of the most reliably liberal and Democratic states in the country. California is also among the high-vaccination states, which is notable given its well-publicized distribution problems earlier this year.

On the other end of the spectrum, all but two of the 20 states with the lowest overall vaccination rates are states that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020, and they are heavily concentrated in the Deep South, with Alabama and Mississippi near the bottom.

Political affiliation isn't the only factor that appears to influence vaccination rates; education, income, urban versus rural residency, and race all appear to play a role as well. Additionally, some people are unable to get shots for various reasons.

However, the political divide is so stark that the same pattern can be seen at the county level. Worse, polling has shown for months that Republicans are more likely than other Americans to say they will never get the vaccine, regardless of what they learn about it.

This is in stark contrast to, say, Black Americans, who have expressed skepticism about the vaccine but have generally described themselves as “waiting and seeing” for additional safety data.

According to Charles Gaba, the health care numbers guru who publishes at ACASignups.net, based on the results of a recent Yahoo News poll, “there are around 2.44 million Biden voters who appear to be unreachable... but 23.75 million Trump voters who fall into that category.”

This situation was entirely predictable, but it was not unavoidable.

Why Was America's Pandemic 'Preventable?'

There is nothing inherently political about a virus or the way society responds to it, and it is not difficult to imagine a very different history of COVID-19 here, one with a different Republican president, such as Mitt Romney or even Chris Christie, who would be more likely to pay attention to science and recognize that the crisis required a robust government response.

Instead of that hypothetical, the United States was led by Trump, which had a significant impact, as several new books on the pandemic demonstrate.

One of them is "Preventable," written by Andy Slavitt, a former health-care executive who recently completed a temporary assignment working on Biden's COVID-19 response.

“Preventable” is mostly a chronicle of Slavitt’s activities and observations in 2020, before he joined the administration, when he was working behind the scenes with private and public sector officials. The title captures the book’s main point, which is that, while the pandemic was bound to be a disaster, it didn’t have to be nearly as terrible and deadly as it has been.

Slavitt's first stint in government began in 2013, when the Obama administration asked him to assist in the rescue of HealthCare.gov, the Affordable Care Act's website that crashed upon launch. Slavitt is as much a technocrat as a Democrat, and this attitude shines through in the book.

He actually has some nice things to say about Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a former White House official, whom Slavitt found receptive to advice on issues such as reopenings, and he also praises Republican governors such as Mike DeWine of Ohio, whose aggressive pandemic measures sparked statehouse protests.

At the same time, Slavitt criticizes New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, for not acting quickly enough to shut down the city when the virus first struck; he contrasts de Blasio's performance with that of San Francisco Mayor London Breed, another Democrat, who acted more quickly and whose city fared better by most metrics.

Publicity

However, in criticizing de Blasio, Slavitt acknowledged that because this was such a novel crisis with so many scientific unknowns, almost every public servant was bound to make mistakes.

“I don’t hold Bill de Blasio... or any other elected leader responsible for not being able to predict an unpredictable future, for getting every one of these very difficult decisions right, as long as they’re acting in good faith, making an effort, and having enough empathy for everyone,” Slavitt told Stardia.

But Trump exhibited none of these characteristics, according to Slavitt. “The fact that Trump couldn't even pretend to be empathetic and working on these problems seriously is pretty extraordinary,” he said.

Why Was the Pandemic a "Nightmare Scenario"?

Trump's inability to see beyond his own political fortunes is also a theme in Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta's book, "Nightmare Scenario." The Washington Post reporters interviewed nearly 200 people, and their journalistic account provides story after story of Trump viewing the crisis almost entirely through the lens of politics rather than public health.

They claim that early in the pandemic, Trump was agitating for testing to be slowed or stopped because he was concerned about his job performance numbers. “Testing is killing me,” he told one adviser. “I'm going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?”

”He couldn’t equivocate anymore,” Abutaleb and Paletta write. “He couldn’t be held back by doctors and have people chirping about masks and social distancing on television. He needed to lean in hard to the doctors.”

Scholars will spend decades studying and debating exactly what role Trump's leadership played in the pandemic's toll, but it doesn't take a dissertation to see the direct link between Trump's downplaying of the pandemic's severity, and his contempt for public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, and low vaccination rates in Republican-leaning parts of the country.

The irony is that vaccination could have been a Trump success story. Operation Warp Speed neglected distribution of the shots after they were manufactured, but by nearly all accounts, the decision to purchase so much vaccine up front and coordinate the efforts of scientific agencies aided the United States in obtaining the massive supply that would eventually make it a world leader in vaccination.

But vaccines are useless if people do not use them. America already has one of the highest COVID-19 fatality rates in the developed world, and that rate is expected to rise further. Hospitalizations are already increasing in low-vaccination areas, and the deaths that follow will be tragic, all the more so because they did not have to happen.

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