The Politics of Vaccination

By Will Caraccio 

Recent statistics that have emerged  with details of the effectiveness of newly-developed COVID-19 vaccines have been nothing short of spectacular. Pfizer, Moderna and Astrazeneca, leading pharmaceutical companies, have all come out with excellent results from their trials in record time, boosting the global economy and morale. Soon, doctors will have vaccines as part of the medical arsenal to fight COVID.  However, oftentimes when one problem is solved, another arises to take its place. When leading medical facilities attain a tested vaccine—ensured to immunize without unwanted side-effects—a pressing question will arise: who will get the vaccine first? 

The CDC offers some interesting advice for this conundrum. Its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has met frequently as the pandemic has developed to establish guidelines regarding the mass distribution of vaccines. When it comes to priority vaccination, the CDC pushes for state sovereignty. While state governors will have the ultimate authority to order who will be the first recipients, it nonetheless seems clear that front line doctors, nurses, first responders and nursing home workers will take priority. Elders, who have had the highest risk of death from the virus, would also be clear recipients of the first batches of the vaccine.

So far, this order of priority seems quite logical. However, when faced with the complicated socioeconomic and racial dynamics at play in the United States, particularly in urban areas where the virus has thrived, the clear reasoning becomes much murkier. Should we prioritize vaccines for communities of color, who have been the most impacted by the pandemic? Would these communities, who are suspicious of the medical establishment (and with good reason due to historical abuses), be willing to submit to a vaccination campaign? Would governors of southern states who are not invested in the well being of their most disadvantaged citizens, a common characteristic in many anti-welfare Republicans, renege on their duties to ensure a safe and effective vaccination for all? 

Yet, all of these scenarios presume a willingness from the population to be vaccinated; what happens if Americans reject the tenets of science and instead opt for superstition and conspiracy? To me, the future of our country lies in the answer to this fundamental question. While this idea might seem absurd—that Americans would willingly endanger themselves and their loved ones in an act of profound ignorance—we have seen this happen before. Masks, which effectively decrease the spread of airborne droplets, have been widely abandoned by many Americans, who choose belligerent individualism over science. 

The stakes are high if people are not willing to be vaccinated: all this scientific effort will have been for naught and we will continue to be immersed in this nightmarish pandemic. As public health experts and state politicians navigate the morally nebulous terrain of vaccine distribution, our country remains in danger—not just from COVID-19, but from an affliction of the mind, an ideological pandemic in its own right: the rejection of science and the promulgation of irrational conspiracy.