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OPINION | COLUMNIST: Vaccination efforts struggle

by Trudy Rubin The Philadelphia Inquirer | July 31, 2021 at 2:51 a.m.

As the United States wrestles with how to curb the spread of the covid-19 delta variant -- and President Joe Biden launches a push to get federal workers vaccinated -- it's painful to compare our struggle with that of the rest of the world.

While coronavirus infections soar in developing countries from lack of vaccines, Americans have plentiful access. Yet, U.S. caseloads are spiking again because so many U.S. citizens refuse to get jabs.

Countries such as India and Brazil that should have had successful vaccine campaigns are struggling terribly, because of their populist leaders, while a U.S. president who is doing right is hamstrung by anti-vaxxers. The United States has a history of vaccine mandates dating back to George Washington -- and France and Italy have just instituted them -- but conservative U.S. politicians want to ban them.

In other words, too many GOP leaders and too many misinformed citizens are rejecting blessings that much of the world only dreams of.

This is as sickening as the delta variant. It is time for the Biden administration -- and those who want normalcy to return to America -- to push back.

Looking at the suffering around the world should remind Americans of their good luck -- and the need for the administration to donate more vaccines to the countries that most need them.

About 1% of Africa's population has been fully vaccinated. The super-contagious delta variant is sending covid-19 cases skyrocketing in South Africa, where less than 3% of people are fully vaccinated.

Africa has recorded 1 million new cases this past month, the shortest time it's taken to add that number, due to vaccine scarcity and inability to organize treatment. In Indonesia, the world's fourth-largest country, where just 6% are fully vaccinated, the caseload in July is four times that of January.

Then there's India and Brazil, which share the dubious distinction of being second and third to the United States in coronavirus deaths. America gets the gold medal, leading the world with 628,000 deaths.

India, which is a powerhouse of vaccine production, has completely vaccinated only 7.2% of its population, with 26% getting one jab.

The main reason is a populist leader, Narendra Modi, who continually downplayed the sickness as cases skyrocketed. Sound familiar?

By the time he was forced to face facts, vaccine manufacturers faced shortages of material. They are catching up, and India's devastating second wave has ebbed, but as delta spreads, the task ahead is daunting.

The desperate domestic challenge means that India will no longer be a major hope for providing vaccines to the developing world.

Brazil's coronavirus tragedy also stems from a populist leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, who, Trump-like, called covid-19 a "measly cold," promoted fake cures such as hydroxychloroquine and fired competent health officials. Brazil has completely vaccinated only 19% of its people. And the delta variant has arrived.

Which brings us back to the United States -- which has plentiful supplies, but a hangover from its own populist former president, Donald Trump. After Bolsonaro-like denial, Trump finally did right by promoting the rapid production of vaccines.

Yet, the Trumpist hangover he spawned within his party and in conservative media has become the biggest obstacle to defeating the delta variant -- and thwarting new variants to come.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found a stunning difference between Democrats and Republicans oncovid-19 vaccination. While 86% of Democrats have received at least one vaccine shot, according to the poll, only 45% of Republicans have.

Even more disturbing, the survey found that while only 6% of Democrats said they would probably decline the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably wouldn't get it.

Moreover, where the delta variant, and hospitalizations, are spreading fastest is in red states where vaccination rates are lowest.

The red-state situation is getting so bad that Alabama's GOP governor, Kay Ivey, actually said, "It's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks."

Some other Republican leaders, and Fox News pundits, have also begun to push vaccines. But the one GOP leader whose voice might make a real difference, the ex-president who produced the so-called Trump vaccine, has refused to call on his followers to get vaccinated.

That will be one of the worst of many marks against him in the history books. So, it is up to those who appreciate America's blessings -- from both parties -- to do what needs to be done.

Biden has taken the lead by calling on federal workers to get the shots or undergo regular testing.

Many private companies, such as Google and Facebook, will require employees to be vaccinated. Ditto for some mayors and governors.

Such state, local and private company vaccination requirements are legal and follow many precedents. Nearly all of us got vaccinations before we could attend school.

In fact, the U.S. history of vaccine mandates goes back to George Washington, who required the inoculation of all Continental regulars against the variola smallpox virus in 1777, as troops passed through Philadelphia. Had he not done so, the British forces, already inoculated, might have defeated the rebels.

Imagine what Washington would say to those who consider themselves patriots but refuse to be vaccinated in our times, and put the rest of the country at risk.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Print Headline: Vaccination efforts struggle

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