One million dead from COVID in U.S. as funds lapse
Visitors sit among white flags that were part of a temporary art installation to commemorate Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington. | Patrick Semansky / AP

WASHINGTON—The coronavirus pandemic has officially killed 1 million people in the U.S. in just over two years, but for U.S. leaders now, the Ukraine war and the military budget seem more important.

How else to explain the Biden administration’s continuing requests—the latest is for $40 billion—for continual arms aid for the Ukrainians against Russia’s continuing invasion?

Or Capitol Hill’s agreement to funneling all that cash and all those arms, thus also benefiting U.S. military contractors, though neither Democratic President Joe Biden nor lawmakers of both parties will say so? Lawmakers voting for the unprecedented cash handouts to arms manufacturers but wary of spending anything to fight the virus are often recipients of the cash gifts they get from those very same arms manufacturers. It does not seem to matter to many of them that the nation is running out of vaccine, testing kits, and anti-viral medications.

The $40 billion in arms for Ukraine is eight times as much money as Biden wants to continue the anti-coronavirus battle overseas and also far more than he demands to continue it here at home.

That’s even though the virus, officially called Covid-19, has killed one million people in the U.S. from the official promulgation of the pandemic in March 2020 through May 13, according to Johns Hopkins University’s authoritative worldwide tracking dashboard.  Other scorekeepers say the toll is already over the million mark with the UN saying the real totals are far in excess of the one million figure.

To put that in perspective, one million dead—and the real number is definitely higher—is equivalent to wiping out the entire city of San Jose.

And while the U.S. has 4.2% of the world’s population, it accounts for just under one-sixth of the world’s coronavirus death toll of 6.26 million. That, too, is an undercount, the World Health Organization says.

WHO calculates that from Jan. 1, 2020, through the end of 2021, “excess deaths” worldwide from the pandemic i.e. those that occurred above and beyond expected and calculated mortality figures, range between 13.3 million and 16.6 million, with 14.9 million the most likely figure.

Included in the carnage

That carnage includes not just direct Covid-19 deaths but those associated with other diseases and aliments whose sufferers could not be treated as overburdened health care systems collapsed under the weight of coronavirus cases.

Again, the perspective: The official worldwide death toll just about equals wiping out El Salvador. Killing 14.9 million people means you’ve eliminated Zimbabwe. And 16.6 million kills off Cambodia.

And that’s symbolically important, because as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out, most coronavirus deaths, and an even larger share of the excess mortality, occurs in nations with majorities of people of color, particularly the Americas and South Asia.

The modern-day plague isn’t vanquished. With two more variants of Covid-19 on the way, world leaders gathered by zoom on May 12, hosted by Democratic President Joe Biden to plan the next stage in this war, too. Biden also ordered flags on all federal buildings to fly at half-staff for five days, to honor and memorialize the U.S. dead.

The leaders face a number of problems, WHO’s recent report on Covid-19 says. So did Biden. That includes problems here at home. He started out, though, with a little optimism.

“We’ve provided lifesaving medicines, oxygen, tests, equipment, supplies, and partnered with countries to improve their capacity to manufacture vaccines as well,” Biden said. That includes 500 million vaccine doses to 115 nations, with another 500 million to go.

“But, you know, there’s still so much left to do.  This pandemic isn’t over.”

President Biden, seen here speaking at a May 11 visit to O’Connor Farms, appealed to world leaders at the COVID-19. summit yesterday to re-energize weakening commitments to attack the virus that has now killed more than one million in the U.S. | AP

The one million U.S. Covid-19 deaths are “one million empty chairs around the family dinner table—each irreplaceable.  Irreplaceable losses, each leaving behind a family, a community forever changed because of this pandemic,” said Biden.

‘My heart goes out to all of those who are struggling, asking themselves, ‘How do I go on without him?’ ‘How do I go on without her?’ ‘What will we do without them?’ It’s grief shared by people across all of our nations.

“With thousands still dying every day, now is the time for us to act—all of us—together…We must honor those we have lost by doing everything we can to prevent as many deaths as possible.”

Vaccines now are the main weapon against Covid-19, Biden and the various health experts say. “We have to double down on our efforts to get shots in people’s arms, country by country, community by community, ensure we have reliable and predictable supplies of vaccines and boosters for everyone, everywhere, expand access globally to tests and treatments, and we have to prevent complacency,” the president stated.

May be the toughest

That may be the toughest task, WHO and other experts said. Since the world is interconnected, spreading vaccines is important. And in the lowest income nations, the daily vaccination rate is five shots per 100,000 people. The WHO’s daily goal is 100 per 100,000.

But spreading the vaccine’s also where the U.S.’s own effort has hit some roadblocks. Complacency is one, but outright resistance is another.

Much of that resistance, at least in the U.S., is political. Biden’s predecessor, Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, denied the plague even existed, pushed quack cures, and denigrated and denied the scientific evidence that virtually demanded tough measures—even after he caught the virus himself.

And Trump’s bleats on social media fostered public skepticism and outright lies about both the severity of the virus’s impact and the effectiveness of the vaccines.

The results? Biden’s latest request for more money to fight the virus here at home—and to prevent test kits and vaccines from running out before the end of the summer—is marooned on Capitol Hill, victim of Republican obstructionism, particularly in the evenly split Senate. So is his request, pushed again just as the summit opened, for another $5 billion to aid the world in fighting the virus’s spread.

Here at home, the plague of misinformation and lies is so bad that when Biden’s top science adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, slammed that disinformation in his May 7 commencement address to graduates of the University of Michigan, he got a standing ovation.

“Being in Washington has allowed me to experience firsthand the intensity of the divisiveness in our nation,” Dr. Fauci told the graduates. “What troubles me is that differences of opinion or ideology have in certain circumstances been reflected by egregious distortions of reality.

“Elements of our society have grown increasingly unfazed by a cacophony of falsehoods and lies that often stand largely unchallenged, ominously leading to an insidious acceptance of what I call the normalization of untruths” by “so-called news organizations” and “certain elected officials in positions of power.”

He didn’t need to name names.

There are other problems with the world’s response to the coronavirus. One is that while Big Pharma undertook a successful crash course in developing anti-viral vaccines, it reaped an enormous windfall from U.S. taxpayers along the way.

The latest said investigator Tim Bierly of United Kingdom-based Global Justice Now went to Moderna: Record revenues of $5.9 billion in the first quarter of 2022, from its vaccine and a profit margin of “an eye-watering 71%.”

Spent more on buybacks than on research

And in that same quarter, “Moderna spent more money on share buybacks ($623 million) than research and development ($554 million),” Global Justice Now said.

“Moderna has benefited from billions in public funding and years of painstaking research by U.S. government scientists,” Bierly explained on May 4. “Yet it still demands governments around the world pay through the nose to access this vaccine. This is a model that big pharma companies have been allowed to get away with for too long. Moderna’s blatant profiteering must be the signal for change.

“Moderna’s almost total failure to provide its vaccine to low-income countries, even as fragile health systems teetered on the edge and death tolls mounted, tells us all we need to know about this company.

“Rich-country governments need to finally put global public health first in this pandemic. The U.S. should force Moderna to share its vaccine technology with firms in the global South, and all governments must press for a real, effective waiver on the deadly intellectual property rules that enable these outrageous profits.”

The summiteers didn’t even mention those profits.

They decided “to prioritize the highest-risk populations to save lives,” an extensive and detailed fact sheet of their findings and decisions at www.whitehouse.gov says. The most vulnerable, the leaders said, are “the elderly, the immunocompromised, and healthcare and frontline workers.” Reducing the numbers of the most vulnerable would make Covid-19 “a manageable respiratory pathogen everywhere.”

But a vaccine is no good if nations, and people, can’t get it, the leaders said. “The pandemic also underscored major longstanding inequities in access to new countermeasures, especially for low- and lower-middle-income countries,” they commented. The statement equally applies to low-income people and counties in the U.S., though they didn’t say so.

The group committed to “developing a cohesive global roadmap for local and regional access to medical countermeasures, personal protective equipment, and other lifesaving supplies for potentially pandemic diseases, as well as expanding access to manufacturing and research.”

For its part, the U.S. will expand access to government-owned antiviral health technologies and establish a pilot program to fund antiviral testing and treatments worldwide, Biden said. Not doing so produces a gloomy result. And action against viruses—Covid19 or its successors—will not totally stop them.

“You know, we’re going to face, together, global health crises.  This is not the last one we’ve had.  It’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when,’” Biden warned.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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