As we begin our third calendar year of the pandemic, let's briefly recall how 2021 began: We had two good vaccines authorized, and the Trump administration was fucking up the rollout because the Great Man was far more interested in undoing the results of the 2020 election. When the vaccines were first approved for use, the administration planned to have 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of 2020. Instead, as we noted on January 5, the new year began with just 4.3 million Americans having received their first doses, and no real plan by the federal government to get the vaccines to people in any sort of organized way.
Then the next day, almost no one was thinking all that much about vaccines for a little while.
We started seeing new records being set for daily hospitalizations and deaths, but slowly, the supply of vaccines got moving. Joe Biden was inaugurated and his people said they were astonished to find that Trump's team hadn't really had a vaccine distribution plan, and then Fox News complained that the Trump administration did so have a plan that was really shitty, which involved getting vaccines to the states and saying "you handle it." But a crap plan was still a plan, so shame on you, Joe Biden!
Where Trump's messaging on the pandemic was never anything like reality, Biden promised to be guided by the science, to stay vigilant to new developments, and — in a tonal shift that took some getting used to — to acknowledge that the pandemic had killed too many Americans, so we needed to get it under control. The vaccines finally started being delivered where they were needed, older Americans and the most vulnerable started getting not only their first doses but even their second, and by early March, on the anniversary of the pandemic declaration, Biden said the vaccines were plentiful enough that all American adults could expect to be able to get their shot by May 1, and to have Fourth of July barbecues with family.
As it turned out, the vaccines were getting into arms even more quickly than that, and many of us had actually had our first shot in late March, and our second dose well before May 1. Things were looking pretty darn good there for a while, except for some crazy rightwing nuts who suddenly switched from complaining that Biden hadn't given Trump the credit he deserved for personally developing the vaccines himself to insisting that the vaccines were poison and there's no way they'd ever let any of that socialist stuff go into their arms.
By July, just as case numbers were falling sharply and vaccination rates were good, we started hearing about this Delta variant thing, which was more easily transmitted than the original variant of the virus. We had our July 4 cookouts, but the case numbers were creeping up, and unvaccinated kids (they couldn't get vaccinated yet) came back from summer camps to infect their unvaccinated families, and soon it was time for school to start and rightwing parents were screaming about tyranny at school board meetings because the schools wanted their kids not to get sick.
Red state governors competed with each other to see who could impose the most ridiculous restrictions banning public health authorities and school boards from instituting mask mandates, and in Idaho, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who considers the state's conservative Republican governor, Brad Little, too liberal, decided to ban all mask mandates herself while Little was out of the state. It didn't go over so well with Little.
The Children gamely went to school, and got sick, and schools closed, and in several states, parents who actually wanted their kids to be safe at school sued to block the enforcement of mask mandate bans, and won, in part because judges didn't get how a governor's emergency health powers could be invoked to prevent public health.
Delta kept spreading, hospitals were so overwhelmed in Idaho and Alaska that they had to literally ration care because there were no beds, no doctors or nurses or respiratory therapists, and people died — not just people with COVID, but people who needed hospital care but couldn't get admitted because the ERs and ICUs were full. Trumpers started assaulting doctors and nurses, and threatening the lives of public health officials. In Michigan, a county public health director was nearly forced off the road.
Big surprise: We started hearing about more and more healthcare workers quitting, because they couldn't do their jobs with the resources they had, because they had given all the mental energy they could, because their hospitals treated them as disposable resources.
Crazies threatened to quit their jobs instead of getting vaccinated, although in most cases, businesses and governments that mandated vaccinations actually had really good compliance, generally over 90 percent. But Republicans think they really have a winning issue in ginning up resistance to public health, and the country is just crazy enough that in many areas, it might be a winning strategy.
Oh, yes, and now we have the Omicron variant, which is still more virulent than Delta although vaccines plus booster shots also appear to be highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalizations, and deaths. The FDA has authorized two new antiviral treatments for COVID-19, and both appear to be very effective in preventing serious illness or death in people infected with the Omicron variant, too.
We would say more about the prospects of finally getting a handle on the pandemic in 2022, but suddenly we are run over by a truck.
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