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COVID Strikes Back

Exactly at a time when Americans thought that the worst of COVID-19 was behind them, the epidemic struck the United States hard again. During the past month, the number of infections caused by the delta variant grew at an alarming rate. At the beginning of July, the number of new infections in the United States was about 13,000 a day. But in a matter of weeks, that number went up to 50,000. As a result, Los Angeles County, which has a population of 10 million, reinstated its mask policy for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in all indoor shared spaces. And the US isn’t alone; the rapid spread of the mutation is also accelerating in Europe. So far, the US states hardest hit are those with the lowest vaccination rates, such as Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida. The Republican governors of these states refrained from any campaigns calling their residents to vaccinate. But this stance might soon change. When asked about the high rate of new infections in her state, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey responded bluntly, saying: “The government can’t force you to take care of yourself,” adding that “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks who are letting us down.” Meanwhile, two prominent Republican governors, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, urged their voters to get vaccinated, drawing criticism from some conservatives who accused them of being drawn into “political correctness.” These reactions point to a difficult reality for Republicans: Endorsing more vaccinations is exactly the message the Biden administration is promoting and contrasts with the message promoted by conservative voices claiming that vaccination should be an individual choice, not a government-imposed decision. There is no doubt that it is truly tragic that a serious and dangerous issue such as vaccination has turned into a political battleground, but it’s far from surprising given the 2020 elections and the defeat of Donald Trump. The growing voices coming from the medical community calling to impose mandatory vaccination requirements are turning into a major political debate. On July 26, more than 50 organizations and associations from the health care sector called for mandatory vaccination of all employees. During the same day, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it would require vaccinations for its frontline workers. It is the first federal agency to do so, but it won’t be the last, as other agencies are likely to follow suit, which suggests the possibility of eventually enforcing nationwide vaccination. Meanwhile, the states of California and New York, as well as several hospitals, including the famous Mayo Clinic, began requiring workers to be vaccinated or tested for coronavirus on a weekly basis. While some states and institutions will resist this growing trend, a national vaccination mandate will mean that the US will come a step closer towards achieving herd immunity against the virus. The irony is that the United States has enough vaccines to inculcate its entire population. What is needed now is a new national effort to overcome the resistance of the anti-vaxxers. There is no doubt that the crisis can be resolved if enough Republican leaders and their supporters in the media realize that putting the country’s interest above partisan politics is in their long-term interest. –Geoffrey Kemp (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)