The myth about America and COVID-19
Simple math and the almost-worldwide belief that good coronavirus vaccines are in the United States make its current situation mind-boggling. Its population is roughly 4.7 times that of Thailand, but while the latter recorded 11,305 new infections on Tuesday, the American numbers shot past 55,000 at more or less the same moment.
Make no mistake. There have been days lately that US infection numbers were actually lower than Thailand’s, or “comparatively smaller” when population sizes were taken into account. There are also days that both countries “tied”. But all that was supposed to happen, especially as America’s vaccine rollout was considered to be among the world’s speediest and best-organized while Thailand’s vaccination management has been rocked by shortages, public criticism, reported government coalition conflicts and politicization.
The United States is not like England, whose government has taken a huge gamble by easing official rules against the coronavirus. Washington leaders are not like their counterparts in some other countries who use defiance as political means leading to lowered public guards. Unlike Africa and other poor regions of the world, vaccine supplies and logistics are never a problem.
All of those make the swing in COVID-19 figures hard to explain. Some analysts say divisive politics that seems to have intensified after Donald Trump’s election loss should be blamed for a still-large unvaccinated population, allowing powerful variants to find their ways in and hang on. Yet the percentage of inoculated people is still far bigger than most of the world, and there are countries with far more limited vaccine rollouts but better numbers.
And unlike Thailand, American politicians on the opposite side of President Joe Biden, with the exception of Trump, are not tearing Washington’s vaccine policy to shreds. As of July 15, more than 341 million doses have been administered, roughly 23 times more than Thailand’s record documented on July 20. Also, unlike Thailand and many other countries, people disseminating “misinformation” about vaccines are banned on social media without a fuss, whether they are powerful politicians or ordinary citizens.
A group of 604 medical personnel, at Ramathibodi Chakri Naruebodindra Hospital of Mahidol University, have signed a joint statement demanding that the Thai government procure mRNA or Protein Subunit vaccines for frontline medics, claiming that the existing vaccines are ineffective against the mutated virus, especially the Delta variant.
To sum it up, the US administration has the benefits of relatively vaccine-free politics, smooth government work, mainstream media’s support, social media “restrictions”, abundant supplies, and logistical, financial as well as technological capacities to pull the country out of the health crisis completely.
However, the virtual optimism on the Fourth of July was premature, CNN said in a lead story that marked COVID-19’s return to news prominence. This week, the media network said, it has dawned on America that its fight against the coronavirus “is quickly sliding back in the wrong direction.” In a “shock to the national psyche”, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 700 points on Monday in its biggest drop of the year as the “Delta alarm” grows which could seriously affect travel, leisure and energy stocks. The 60,000 infection barrier was breached this week. Some leading political figures who have been fully vaccinated have reportedly been infected.
What went wrong? CNN primarily blames Trump and a related “misinformation” campaign for the “unfortunate” failure to block the virus’ escape route completely. But he can be just a scapegoat, excessively accused of being responsible for something caused by a juxtaposition of problems, including human beings’ inability to join hands when they need to the most.
America reported more than 32,000 new cases per day over the last week, a 66% increase on the week before and a 145% jump on two weeks ago. That was better than Thailand’s current situation when population sizes are concerned, but the world sees the American infections flirting with 60,000 this week. Is Trump getting better? Or is the coronavirus simply getting better? Or are both getting better?
Hospitalizations over a 30-day period have jumped 21% to over 19,000 in the United States. Deaths, which naturally can lag weeks behind a rise in infection cases, rose 25% last week from the previous seven days, with an average of 250 people dying a day. The current death toll is a cause for optimism and it must have something to do with vaccines, but the lower number of deaths does not explain the resurgent infections that vaccines should have brought under control.
Pfizer proposing a “booster” shot, a third dose to prevent immunity from waning, has made the world frown. Business motives are suspected, but that can be as long as the trend is relatively good in America. If things worsened, commercial questions could give way to bigger, potentially scientifically disturbing ones.
Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) chairman Supant Mongkolsuthree has expressed doubt that the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA)’s decision to tighten lockdown measures in 13 “Dark Red” provinces will successfully contain the rapid surge in COVID-19 infections.
An emerging school of thought has it that vaccines should be judged more based on death tolls than infection numbers. England in particular has embraced this thinking despite global experts’ warnings that the more people the coronavirus infects, the more chances of new, more powerful variants to emerge.
What if the virus is at a stage where infecting is more important than killing? What if it is waiting for the immunity to wane? These are the questions England must consider and so should the United States. After all, there is no better place to learn about the virus’ evolution and vaccines than the two countries.
America has made undeniably good progress, and Russia even looks more worrisome at the moment, but the US swing is disconcerting all the same. Biden must be hoping it stays at unsettling and does not deteriorate into something worse.
By Tulsathit Taptim