More pervasive than the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) is America’s poor judgment that’s spread it. Despite heroic attempts by scientists, vaccine producers and hospital staffs to limit transmission, irresponsible governors and vax-resisters are oases in the desert for SARS-CoV-2 to replicate and evolve. The 3 COVID vaccines FDA’s made available – Moderna, Pfizer; Johnson & Johnson – have proven efficacy against all variants now circulating in the country, including Delta. But inoculations are lagging, and because Delta is 1,000 times more transmissible than D614G, 95 percent of patients treated in hospitals today for COVID infections are unvaccinated. Vaccine avoidance, if unabated, virtually assures evolution of newer strains of higher consequence, more virulent, aggressive variants potentially exhibiting resistances to vaccines we have. Infectious replications in unvaccinated bodies mean more mutations. Those favored by natural selection (i.e. fitter) will be on the rise.
After tortoise-like starts, the EU’s vaccination drive now surpasses the U.S., where under-vaccinated Texas, Florida and Missouri have been springboards for deadly viral comebacks. Mid-February, barely 4% of EU citizenry, comprising 27 nations, had gotten a jab. Inoculations started slowly because vaccines were purchased en masse so smaller EU members weren’t excluded from distribution. Now, 62% of the bloc’s residents received shots. Authorities attribute their success, despite some Astra-Zeneca skepticism, to nationalized healthcare and histories of public confidence in safe immunizations. By contrast, 59% of America’s population has received a single dose with 51% fully inoculated. As with global warming and climate change, fact-resisters, economic myopia and poor leadership pushed U.S. death tolls and infection rates much higher per capita than Canada, Australia and other comparable nations. With 1 in 9 U.S. residents infected, the pandemic’s magnified our social flaws, including lengths to which institutions, businesses, and politicians will go preserving bottom lines. Just as disinformation prevents many from taking prudent health advice and contributing responsibly to society, claims to personal freedoms to which no one is entitled escalate dysfunction. If Asia’s kids universally don masks to slow outbreaks of diseases, why is comparable prevention in U.S. schools “traumatic?”
In 16 months, private companies had bidding wars over distribution of PPE the federal government bought; hospitals with extra beds refused uninsured patients from neighboring, overflowing wards, and nursing homes failed to protect our most vulnerable. Throughout the crisis, Pharma firms competed, rather than cooperated, to save lives; pandemic snake oil salesmen peddled bogus “cures,” and Connecticut doctors used municipal testing sites to bilk folks. Now, as parts of the country reinstate mask mandates to curb Delta, a handful of governors are blocking them. Decrees by Greg Abbott (TX), Asa Hutchinson (AR), Ron DeSantis (FL) and governors of South Carolina, Arizona and Tennessee (states with spiking transmission) verge on reckless endangerment if not negligent homicide. To countervail, 664 U.S. colleges imposed vaccination directives, military personnel are ordered to get shots by mid-September, teachers unions are requiring 3.7 million strong to get jabbed, and 25 million Americans (per surveys) will get vaccinated if bosses require.
Like anthropogenic climate change, the pandemic’s an existential threat. If, unlike the EU, Canada; Asia, Biden won’t impose and enforce mask mandates, proofs of vaccination or negative tests to use public transit, enclosed commonplaces and other high-density locales, state governments and private sectors must. America’s back-to-“normal” mania, lack of uniform resolve, and inability to see beyond horizons prove a minority (≥ 30%) ideologically incapable of due diligence, elementary statistics or basic logic. Their inability to protect voluntarily is why wearing seat belts in cars became mandatory.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.