the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Oct 25, 2021
Recent efforts by the bosses’ politicians and the corporate media to blame the unvaccinated for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic ignore how it developed in the first place. Once the novel coronavirus hit the shores of the U.S., the U.S. quickly accounted for almost a fifth of the world’s COVID deaths.
The U.S. government certainly deserves part of the blame. It had plenty of warning about the possibility of such a pandemic. One hundred years had elapsed since the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. It’s easy to put the blame on Donald Trump and his administration and their willingness to play down the seriousness of the outbreak when it started, and their greater concern about getting Trump re-elected. However, both the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama discussed the need to put such a plan in place following earlier outbreaks in other countries of new diseases like SARS, yet failed to actually put any kind of plan in place.
At the outset of the epidemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control didn’t even have a clear policy on the benefits of wearing masks, even though masks were useful in bringing the Spanish flu epidemic under control 100 years before. In China and other East Asian countries, masks were readily available following their experience with SARS in 2003, and those countries managed to keep the COVID-19 relatively under control. The CDC didn’t change its policy to recommend the public wear masks until early April of 2020, months after the first cases appeared in the U.S.
This was not simply the result of incompetence. They couldn’t push for everyone to wear masks since they hadn’t done anything to stockpile them, just as they had done nothing to stock up on other personal protective equipment like gowns and gloves for frontline health care workers.
It is not simply politicians nor the government that are to blame for the rise of the pandemic. It’s also a result of the private, for-profit nature of the American health care system. With profit their constant concern, private hospitals not only let their stockpiles of masks and PPE dwindle down to zero, they wanted no empty hospital beds or ICU’s nor extra ventilators. They also cut staff to the bare minimum. Some even cut staff after the start of the pandemic!
When the CDC developed its first test for the new coronavirus, it turned out to be flawed and not useful. No private commercial or hospital labs initially stepped forward to develop a test, since before it was clear there would be a pandemic, they couldn’t be assured they could make a profit off of selling the tests. So companies waited precious weeks and months for the pandemic to spread and for the federal government and the insurance companies to promise them a guaranteed profit.
Even when better tests became available, the U.S. public health system was incapable of testing, tracing and tracking the spread of the virus. Public health labs couldn’t handle all the tests that were needed, so private labs were paid to do them. Even when they expanded, the system couldn’t coordinate the avalanche of results.
The pandemic exposed what is in effect a near total lack of a public health care system in the U.S. Instead, there are almost 3,000 separate public health agencies in states, counties, cities and small towns. Social spending has been slashed over the years. Public health departments across the country cut 60,000 jobs since 2008.
With the public health system unable to contain the virus, the working class bore the brunt of the pandemic. Most frequent outbreaks occurred at schools and colleges, in the prisons and jails, nursing homes, food processing plants and other workplaces, according to the New York Times. In just over a year of the pandemic, meatpacking plants were responsible for at least 334,000 COVID-19 cases, according to one study. Companies and institutions weren’t about to cut into profits and increase costs by spending the money necessary to provide proper ventilation, yet continued to keep workers, students, patients and inmates in crowded conditions.
Workers without the luxury of working from home were the most likely to contract the virus, especially those who had to commute to work. They were crowded into mass transit systems which had poor ventilation systems and never changed air filters. These workers then brought the virus home with them, and those who lived in the most crowded housing were also more likely to be exposed and expose family members. COVID-19 is most deadly among the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, and they were often infected by workers with no way to isolate themselves when they came home from work.
With the U.S. system of health insurance being primarily employer-provided, and often carrying high deductibles and co-pays, many workers delayed getting tested or seeking a doctor’s care when they got sick with COVID-19 and spread the virus to others in their workplaces. Workers in nursing homes both contracted the disease and passed it on to elderly patients with whom they had contact.
After years of budget cuts, hospitals that served the working class and the poor were ill-equipped to handle the huge influx of patients. In private hospitals that catered to the wealthy and those with the best insurance, patients got access to heart-lung bypass machines and specialized drugs like Remdesivir, while even non-COVID patients were denied care in community hospitals.
Even after vaccines against COVID became available, many people who wanted the vaccine couldn’t get one for several months. This despite the fact that the government financed their research and development costs. With few neighborhood health centers available after years of budget cuts, the government paid for vaccines to be distributed through private, for-profit drugstores, and many people had to sign up for long waiting lists before they could get one.
Many people remain unvaccinated due to “vaccine hesitancy,” for which many have quite understandable reasons. Even today, however, there still are many who want the vaccine, but cannot do so for a variety of reasons; lack of transportation, inability to get time off from work, and for some, fear of missing work if they were to have side effects from the vaccine.
The wealthy and the corporations, and the politicians who front for them, today call on workers to blame their unvaccinated co-workers and support vaccinate mandates that mean workers will lose their jobs if they don’t take the vaccine. They expect us to forget this history that shows it is they and their system that are responsible for how the pandemic reached this point.