By ROBIN SMITH October 18, 2021
The politicization of science and healthcare during COVID is a dire problem.
What happened when a novel virus fell in the middle of a presidential election surrounded by a deeply divided information culture where big tech, big media, and big politics monitored and limited the data available?
At first Americans listened, took instructions, and generally complied. Everyone understood there was no playbook to this transmittable virus that was, in some populations, killing individuals, filling up hospitals and intensive care units, and straining the health delivery system and personnel. Unfortunately, as “experts” and talkingheads in the 24-hour news cycle speculated, reported, and questioned, a bias was soon seen and reacted to — some to follow and some to oppose. Most of our news outlets and “fact-checkers” let only this through: If a little quarantine was good and wearing masks in crowded places served a purpose, then more quarantine and isolation were needed with mask mandates inside, outside, and regardless of risk, health, or age.
Then President Donald Trump announced the Manhattan Project of vaccines, Operation Warp Speed, and his political opponents chose to hijack the whole thing. Trump’s vaccine project, which took a four- to eight-year linear process and compacted it into only months, created a development and approval process that made history in creating acquired immunity for a novel virus. Using research that began in the 1960s in vaccines for rabies, the cytomegaloviruses, the flu, and the Zika virus, the mRNA COVID immunity was groundbreaking but was originally rejected by those demanding mandates now.
In September 2020, then-VP candidate Kamala Harris claimed that the Trump administration had “muzzled,” “suppressed,” and “sidelined” scientists. In response to her claim, Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, countered, “I have to say there has been absolutely no interference.”
Harris was asked in that interview by CNN’s Dana Bash, directly, “Let’s just say there’s a vaccine that is approved and even distributed before the election. Would you get it?” Harris replied: “Well, I think that’s going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump. … I will not take his word for it.”
In the same month, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden declared that President Trump “continues to mislead and lie” related to the development of the COVID vaccine. He went on to say that he would take the vaccine “only if we knew all of what went into it because so far nothing he’s told us has been true.”
Finally, in the head-to-head VP debate with Mike Pence, Harris proclaimed, “If Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”
Thus the health of Americans became just another partisan issue. Biden, Harris, and other Democrats claimed to be heroes for refusing “Trump’s vaccine.” A year later, anyone who listened to their advice or who declined to vaccinate because they were turned off by Democrats’ immediate about-face upon Biden’s inauguration are losing their jobs.
Government and big businesses are resorting to vaccine mandates because Americans no longer trust information that seems to change with political candidates. In all of healthcare, barring a life-threatening emergency, informed consent is mandated. Why is the COVID vaccine any different? Why has the public health approach, in too many instances, been to clamor for mandatory vaccines while criticizing individuals who need more information as to the COVID vaccine’s impact on any number of other health factors? Why has answering questions been replaced with threats to losing one’s job and being called a name?
The COVID States Project, an academic consortium, published data on the unvaccinated with a finding: The research and data we do have shows that significant portions of the unvaccinated public were confused and concerned, rather than absolutely opposed to vaccines. Comments shared by these researchers reflect what The New York Times characterized as “a lot of fear of side effects, worries about lack of Food and Drug Administration approval and about yet-undiscovered dangers.”
The mandates of public health officials and healthcare providers have cultivated and escalated mistrust when so much of the vaccine hesitancy really is about fear and uncertainty wrapped in partisan bickering. It would be easier to answer questions, understand the science, and observe the same informed consent that works for all of healthcare, and hopefully this would restore trust in a critical sector of America.