I’m a sucker for an old song, maybe with a twist: Would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar – or would you rather get your dose of the COVID vaccine?
If you’re familiar with that tune, “Swinging on a Star,” which back in the day won an Oscar for Best Original Song, you’re probably sufficiently senior to qualify for a place at the front of the line to receive your inoculations.
You also may be of enough years to remember the introduction of Jonas Salk’s miraculous polio vaccine to schoolchildren in 1954. Three separate shots were required. To this day I remember my father coaxing me into the car for what he promised was a ride to go see a neighboring farmer’s dogs but which turned out to be a visit to the family doctor for a polio injection. Three times, and I fell for it every time.
Last weekend, in the middle of the night, “Swinging on a Star” was playing on my bedside mobile and roused me from sleep. Just hours later, I got my second shot of the Moderna vaccine. That’s not bragging, but a simple fact -- an acknowledgement of the one-year anniversary of the lockdown and a reminder to myself of the kind of miserable months we’ve all had during this pandemic -- empty streets and sidewalks, closed schools and businesses, and one of those makeshift mortuary trailer trucks parked alongside the medical facility a couple of blocks up the avenue. Casualties mounting by the hour, minimal contact with other people and all the time waiting for some kind of cure.
As we approach 550,000 deaths in the United States, more than 30,000 of them here in New York City, vaccinations are more and more widespread, with 107 million shots administered in the US so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Scientists pulled out the stops and made it happen. Last spring, I spoke to a leading virologist in California who told me then that she thought we’d have a viable vaccine – or two or three or four – within months because there were so many teams all over the United States and the world working non-stop for a solution. I was skeptical; she was right.
Meanwhile, former guy Donald Trump, deprived of his Twitter feed, sends out petulant press releases, still seeking revenge, issuing angry threats and insisting that that all good things are because of him. Last Wednesday, he wrote, “I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 (often referred to as the China Virus) Vaccine, that if I wasn’t President, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all. I hope everyone remembers!”
What a whining little former guy it is. To be fair, as Josh Marshall noted on his website Talking Points Memo, “the Trump administration (albeit mainly career civil servants) deserve some credit for Operation Warp Speed, which backstopped the risk in private pharmaceutical companies of going all out in vaccine creation and production. But on the distribution front, their record was close to catastrophic.”
There was never any real plan on Trump’s part. Why? Marshall writes, “It was mainly a means of self-protection and risk avoidance: arrange things so that the administration could take credit if things went well and blame states if they went bad.. The federal government would manage the relatively easy task of airlifting supplies in bulk to states at designated airports and then let the states figure out how to get them into people’s arms.
It was an incredibly hard task and the best solution was to put it off on someone else so the White House didn’t get the blame. It’s really that simple. The through line to Trump’s Pandemic response from January through his final day in office was protecting himself. It really is as simple and depressing and disgraceful as that.
Bess Levin at Vanity Fair asked, “Did he help things along? Yes, he did. Did his administration also falsely take credit for the Pfizer vaccine, which they played no role in developing; fail to obtain additional doses of the drug when they had the chance; and epically f___ up the distribution of the whole thing? Yes, to all of the above.”
That changed on January 20. The Biden administration now has promised enough vaccine for every adult American by late May. On Sunday, the day after I got my second dose, 2.9 million shots were administered, a rate three and a half times greater than on the president’s inauguration day.
Meanwhile, shortly after we learned that Donald and “I really don’t care, do you?” Melania had, in fact, secretly been vaccinated, a public service announcement appeared on TV and across the Internet with all of the living past presidents and their wives – except, of course, for you-know-who and his spousal unit. The New York Times reports that news of the Trump shots had not yet been revealed when the PSA was produced. And as an aside backhandedly tossed at his recent CPAC harangue, Trump did say, “Everybody go get your shot,” although it largely was lost in his tidal wave of grievance.
Supposedly, via various backchannels, the Trumps are still being asked to speak out more favorably. If they loudly would urge all Americans to get their shots, especially those who make up the Trumpist fanbase, "I think it would make all the difference in the world," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief advisor on the pandemic, said on Sunday. "He’s a widely popular person among Republicans.. If he came out and said, ‘Go and get vaccinated, it’s really important for your health. the health of your family, and the health of the country,’ it seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close followers would listen to him.
It seems like an intrinsic contradiction that you had a program that was started during his presidency and he’s not out telling people to get vaccinated, but I wish he would, He has such incredible influence over the people in the Republican Party, it would really be a game-changer if he did.
"We've got to dissociate political persuasion from commonsense, no-brainer public health things," Fauci added. [“Vaccines have] rescued us from smallpox, from polio, from measles. What is the problem here?"
(Update: On Fox News Tuesday night, Trump tried to have it both ways, telling Maria Bartiromo, “I would recommend it and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. But, you know, again, we have our freedoms and we have to live by that. And I agree with that also. But it’s a great vaccine, it’s a safe vaccine and it’s something that works.”)
The problem is that these days GOP leadership and their followers are more interested in Dr. Seuss than Dr. Fauci, more up in arms over Mr. Potato Head than the thousands still dying from the virus every day. They have politicized masks and social distancing and opening schools and bars and restaurants to such an extent that as per an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey, 49% of Republican men say they will not get the vaccine (compared to only six percent of Democratic men); a CBS News poll finds that overall, one in three Republicans do not plan to seek the protection of an inoculation. This despite warnings of yet another surge, partly the result of variants on the virus, partly because of college spring breaks and several states prematurely lifting restrictions. It’s already happening in Europe.
On Monday, President Biden told reporters, “I discussed it with my team, and they say the thing that has more impact than anything Trump would say to the MAGA folks is what the local doctor, what the local preachers, what the local people in the community say.” And so the push is on, accompanied by a nationwide media blitz targeting young people, people of color and those on the right.
Still, many Republicans align themselves with the anti-vaxxers, saying that the shots remain too experimental and risky, or that dark conspiracies are afoot, with microchips hidden in the formulas. Some point to reports of 1637 deaths among the tens of millions of Americans who have received COVID shots so far, but the CDC notes that, “ A review of available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records revealed no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths.”
Side effects? None at all for many, for others, yes. That’s what happened to me. A soreness of the shoulder at the point of the jab a few hours after it occurred and about 30 hours of fatigue and the feeling of a mild case of flu.
This will pass, I told myself. Unless the vaccine turns us all into flesh-eating zombies and that’s another matter entirely.
Just kidding. In the words of another song far more contemporary than the forties’ “Swinging on a Star,” tell the world, “I am not throwin’ away my shot.” Ignore the ignorant and get it done.