As soon as I finished writing this column, I headed over to my neighborhood pharmacy to get the Pfizer booster shot. It has been eight months since my second shot — I was fortunate to get in line early when vaccine doses were hard to come by — and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have finally hashed out a booster plan.
The CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, overruled her own experts and those from the FDA in expanding the field of eligibility. Many doctors and health officials are complaining, with good reason, that the process — and the remaining uncertainty about who is actually eligible — has confused people, who, frankly, don’t need any more confusion.
But, in any case, virtually everyone believes a booster is worthwhile for an old (and, so far, getting older every day) person like myself. I was in and out in less than 20 minutes. No reaction so far, but I was fortunate to have had no real reaction to the first two Pfizer shots. And while I may have reservations about the boosters even as so many in the world are still scrambling to get a first shot, I also know it’s not a zero-sum game.
And so, Joe Biden has announced the U.S. would purchase and distribute a half-billion doses of vaccine, which brings our pledge to the world to more than a billion shots. But that sounds better than it actually is. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. has donated only 140 million doses so far, and most of the pledged number is not due to arrive until next year. Meanwhile, tens of thousands — maybe more — will have needlessly died.
We should have been on this sooner. We should have been helping with the speed of manufacturing vaccines sooner. It is long past time for all rich nations to make this worldwide calamity a worldwide priority. But what this shows is not the selfishness of those getting the boosters but the selfishness of those Americans who refuse the readily available vaccination altogether.
We seem to be facing an onslaught of critical, and quite difficult, decisions. Crises are everywhere. The crisis at the border — with Haitians gathered under a border bridge in unsanitary conditions, with videos of Border Patrol agents on horseback roughly corralling them — is one that Biden has botched. In another futile effort to mollify critics from the right, including the Tucker Carlsons of the world with their racist “replacement” theories, the Biden administration was busily sending the Haitians, many of them seeking asylum, home to an increasingly desperate situation.
It seems as if the rush to deport is being rethought. But what’s inarguable is that there is no easy answer here, just as there was no easy answer when ending the war in Afghanistan, and no easy answer for how to get resistant Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to sign on to some version of Biden’s human-infrastructure bill.
And no easy answer to Mitch McConnell’s threat — all in the service of helping the GOP in the midterms — to allow America to go into default because, he says, it’s not his job to get the new debt ceiling passed. And yet, it’s on Biden to find answers for all these problems, which may explain why his approval ratings have fallen.
Robert Kagan has written a truly frightening essay in The Washington Post about what he says is the political and constitutional crisis we’re already facing with Republican legislatures making laws to suppress the vote in order to help elect a Republican in 2024, a Republican who could very well be Donald Trump. Meanwhile, there’s the unwillingness of Senate Democrats to reform the filibuster in order to pass legislation to protect voters’ rights and, not incidentally, their slim control of Congress.
Yeah, we’re talking again about that Trump, the same one whose attempts at a post-election coup — with the help of a fantasy memo from John Eastman, the former University of Colorado so-called “visiting scholar at Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization” — are being fleshed out every day. And still the GOP, according to every poll, remains in thrall to him.
There seems to be no way to stop the Big Lie. In the phony Arizona audit of the 2020 election produced Friday, the numbers show that Biden, to no one’s surprise, actually won. But the takeaway from the Cyber Ninjas is that the results of their study are “inconclusive” because there might have been cheating they simply couldn’t find. Seriously. And now more Republican-led states are ordering audits that won’t show any cheating but will still be used to pass voter-suppression laws.
The reason I bring these issues up is to show how complicated the world is — and how easy it is, in contrast, to just get your shots. The politicization of the vaccine is the great scandal of our time. John Ingold has a compelling story in the Colorado Sun about how suddenly crowded Colorado hospitals dealing with virus are bending, but not yet breaking, under the wave of Delta infections, even as nearby mountain states are in full-blown crisis.
Part of the reason why we’re not yet in crisis is Colorado’s relative, but hardly sufficient, success with vaccinating the public. Approximately 60 percent of all Coloradans — and that percentage includes those too young to get the shot — are fully vaccinated. Across the border in Wyoming, the number is 41 percent.
Just read this heartbreaking Buzzfeed story out of Idaho, which has the lowest vaccination rate in the country. A young doctor, Ashley Carvalho, tells of the burnout she and her colleagues face while, at the same time, facing abuse from some families of the patients whose lives they’re trying to save. Beds are running low. Service is being rationed. And all because of those refusing to get even the first shot.
One family member, who insisted that the hospital treat his father-in-law with ivermectin — you know, the deworming medication — told Carvalho, “If you don’t do this, I have a lot of ways to get people to do something, and they’re all sitting in my gun safe at home.”
The patient and the son-in-law and nearly every other person being treated at the Idaho hospital were unvaccinated. The same as in Mississippi. Or in Arkansas. Or in certain parts of Colorado. Yes, there are breakthrough cases — vaccines are not foolproof; hence the boosters — but this is still a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
And now those people rushing to get shots are the ones like me who have already been vaccinated. It’s not good enough. It’s not nearly good enough.
Mike Littwin’s column was produced for The Colorado Sun, a reader-supported news organization committed to covering the people, places and policies of Colorado. Learn more at coloradosun.com.