The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

“Vaccine Hesitancy”
—An Excuse for the System’s Own Failings

May 10, 2021

In the first week of May, the rate of vaccination in the U.S. dropped to under 2.3 million shots a day, from 3.4 million shots a day in mid-April. Scientists now say it is unlikely the U.S. will ever reach herd immunity. So COVID may become like the flu, returning every year to kill tens of thousands more people.

President Biden’s administration has accelerated a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing people to get the shots: “Now that we have the vaccine supply, we’re focused on convincing even more Americans to show up and get the vaccine that is available to them.” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot addressed black residents of Chicago, saying: “We need to send out the alarm to everyone to make sure that Black South Siders understand: You must get the vaccine. It is safe.”

Once again, this country’s political leaders throw the responsibility for this disaster we continue to live through on each individual, as if it’s up to us to protect ourselves from the virus, as if the main reason only one third of the population has been vaccinated is that people are reluctant to get the shot.

But the reality is that the entire rollout of the vaccine—as with every other part of society’s reaction to this virus—has been a shambles.

When vaccines were first approved, the federal public health authorities handed off responsibility for distributing the vaccine to the states. State public health systems had already been cut to the bone and were overwhelmed dealing with all the other aspects of the disease.

Between 2008 and 2017, the U.S. cut 50,000 jobs in its already woefully inadequate public health system. The government spent trillions to bail out the banks and big companies, not the hospital systems. In the pandemic, health officials had to rely on this country’s system of private hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies.

Many places lack these services. On top of that, each pharmacy, each clinic employs as few people as possible—meaning in most cases there is no one to even answer the phone to make an appointment. Instead, each site set up its own complicated internet sign-up system.

So to get a vaccine appointment took time, internet access, access to the medical system, and means to travel to wherever appointments were available.

Cities have organized some mass vaccination centers and pop-up events—but announced them and set up appointment systems on the internet, again leaving out those without access or who don’t know how to use the internet. These have been again organized mostly through medical centers. In Chicago’s majority Latino neighborhood of Hegewisch, for example, there have been few such events. The president of the local Business Association explained why: “When it comes to Hegewisch, we don’t have an infrastructure. There’s no operating medical center.” How many neighborhoods, how many rural areas are like Hegewisch?

For working people who can get an appointment, there is no requirement that jobs give time off to go to it. And how many employers in this country give no personal days, no sick days at all? No wonder many people have gotten a first shot, and failed to show up for the necessary second appointment.

So of course, those least likely to have good transportation, internet access, health care, and paid days off are also those least likely to be vaccinated—meaning especially black people, Latinos, the rural poor. In fact, vaccination rates reflect class society.

Of course it’s true some people are hesitant to get vaccinated. After the whole disaster of this virus, who can be surprised that some don’t trust this medical system, these drug companies? These same companies that pushed opioids on the population, so they could profit from addiction? The same medical system that already produces a 30 year difference in life expectancy between the richest neighborhoods and the poorest within a city like Chicago?

And with all of these obstacles to getting vaccinated, who even knows how many people would actually refuse if vaccines were readily available, at their home, at their place of work? Until that is done, all the talk of vaccine hesitancy is just an excuse for the system’s own failure.

No, the slowing rate of vaccination is not the fault of individuals who are hesitant. It is the result of capitalism, a system that chases each small profit while systems that require millions are left to fall apart.