Vaccine distribution fiasco makes the case for public healthcare

In the U.S., Blacks, Latinx, Indigenous people, and Pacific Islanders are two to three times as likely as whites to have died from Covid-19. PHOTO:
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“Social murder.” That’s how Frederick Engels described capitalists, who knowingly place “workers under conditions in which they can neither retain health nor live long.” When it comes to Covid, that’s precisely what the U.S. government has done in the name of profit.

Known cases of Covid in the U.S. number around 28 million, with half a million deaths disproportionately affecting the poor, elderly, and people of color, not to mention workers in essential industries, like food-handlers and meat-packers. A major article in The Lancet concluded that 40% of these deaths were avoidable, the result of political decisions.

Now, delays and obstacles in rolling out vaccines are telling the same story. Those hardest hit are the ones already least served. All the pre-existing inequities of capitalist America continue to translate into denial of healthcare.

Vaccine basics — making a killing. Trump knew what every capitalist politician knew about Covid. The real problem for him was the threat it posed to the profit-driven economy. So he downplayed reality and science, hoping to keep the economy running. But he deferred to science when it came to capitalism’s savior — the vaccine.

There was no denying that vaccine science was a moneymaker. Trump fast-tracked a profit-driven model developed in the 1980s in which public research funds wind up in private hands.

Four decades of taxpayer money lies behind the development of coronavirus vaccines. At least $14 billion was handed over to drug companies in 2020. The first Covid trial was conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

Yet the vaccines are barricaded behind walls of proprietary patents. Revenues are so great that Moderna and BioNTech now boast at least five new billionaires.

When it comes to mass infections that don’t threaten profits, little research or money is to be found. Covid aside, communicable infections account for more than half the deaths in the poorest fifth of the world, yet only a handful of new drugs target these illnesses. There’s no urgency about saving these people.

The U.S. is refusing to support a waiver of monopoly Covid vaccine patents at the World Trade Organization. That will keep inoculations, costing $20 to $40 apiece, out of reach for scores of poor nations and billions of people. In February 2021, 10 countries had administered 75% of all vaccinations, yet 130 countries had not yet received a single shot.

The poor are treated the same here as they are treated around the world.

Systemic racism and xenophobia. In many states, neither vulnerable people of color nor frontline, essential workers were prioritized for vaccination as of late February. According to an NPR investigation, across the south most Covid vaccination sites in major cities were located in whiter neighborhoods. This is true around the country. Studies have found that in both urban and rural counties, Black residents generally need to travel farther than whites to get to a vaccination site. That’s because racial differentials in healthcare coverage mean hospitals and clinics are generally centered in whiter areas.

Similar trends can be seen among Latinx people. Early data already reveal a huge discrepancy between white and Latinx vaccination rates, with the former three times more likely to receive the first dose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that those over 75 get priority for the vaccine, and many states followed that guidance. But this policy fails to take into account the overall lower life expectancies of many people of color and their higher vulnerability to the coronavirus. African Americans’ average life expectancy is 65, and they are getting and dying of Covid at earlier ages than whites. Blacks are 2.1 times as likely to die of Covid than whites. Native Americans are 2.2 times, Latinx people are 2.4 times, and Pacific Islanders are 2.7 times as likely.

Covid is also raging in prisons and immigrant detention camps, yet inoculations are not prioritized there.

And in the chaos of our decentralized, piecemeal system, a dirty little secret is that thousands of doses of vaccine are being wasted, apparently because of sanctions that have been visited on doctors and healthcare workers who used up leftover vaccine ready to expire on the “wrong” people, sometimes people of color who were below the age guidelines or just didn’t have appointments.

Publicly owned and controlled healthcare. Discrimination in treatment and vaccines is directly related to the private healthcare system. This country has shown by example the huge consequences of not providing universal, publicly funded healthcare.

It has the lowest life expectancies, the highest healthcare costs, and the most people with no healthcare among wealthy countries. Around 29 million people had no coverage in 2019, before the pandemic. Then, because a huge proportion of care comes through employer-provided insurance, millions lost their coverage when they lost their jobs.

The Affordable Care Act is no substitute for a public system. It helps provide health insurance, not healthcare. The least expensive plans often have such high deductibles that people still cannot afford care. And since every part of the healthcare industry is profit-based and unregulated, costs continue to skyrocket.

What’s needed is a complete overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system. Profit must be taken out of the equation. It’s the main reason for all the unnecessary deaths. It’s the main reason for persistent health crises and suffering around the world. Making a killing on Wall Street is the culprit behind social murder.

Every aspect of the healthcare system must be nationalized under workers control.

That’s the first step in curing the disease called capitalism.

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