A few weeks ago, during a conference with the nation’s governors, Joe Biden stated that there was “no federal solution” to the pandemic. While his administration was quick to back-pedal the apparent “misunderstanding,” Biden’s Freudian slip only confirmed what millions of people were already seeing as a deficient, half-hearted approach to beating COVID. The country enters the second year of the Biden administration overwhelmed by yet another COVID spike, with no end to the pandemic on the horizon.
The message from Democrats’ inaction is loud and clear: working people should be grateful that the “new normal” isn’t worse. Instead of preparing in advance for new waves of COVID, the Biden administration is only belatedly scaling up production of at-home tests. The Biden administration seems to be headed towards waving a white flag and accepting hundreds of thousands of further COVID deaths as the “cost of doing business.”
Why Couldn’t Biden End It?
The failures of the Biden administration are rooted in capitalism’s overall approach to COVID. They have relied on giving incentives to U.S. corporations to end the pandemic, but viruses like COVID do not respect national borders, and there aren’t mega-profits to be made in vaccinating poor countries. Instead of the U.S. spearheading an international program of vaccination, which would have pushed aside vaccine patent rights and involved putting ordinary people above profits, the Biden administration has consistently failed to put forward a coherent strategy.
Biden had committed to getting serious about contact-tracing and setting up a nationwide CDC-led effort, only to buckle to Republican pressure and dismantle it. Buying testing kits for every American was deemed “too expensive” in the summer – now several months later, 500 million tests have been purchased, but won’t be actually available until after the latest peak in cases is expected to have declined. Administration officials have publicly contradicted themselves, and each other, several times on the necessity of mask wearing.
At this point, large swaths of the world, especially in Africa, remain essentially unvaccinated. This is reprehensible in itself, but also in what it means for the pandemic at large; as long as the virus is able to continue to spread it will continue to create new variants, which have the potential to undermine the progress made thus far in combating COVID.
As the Omicron surge continues, it is working people who will continue to suffer the consequences of Biden’s failure. While less deadly than previous variants, Omicron has quickly overwhelmed the healthcare system. Hospitals nationwide have reported having to cut their bed-capacity by 3-10% because of staffing shortages due to COVID.
A “new normal” where tens of thousands of Americans die every year due to new developing variants and overwhelmed hospitals is simply unacceptable – but this appears to be the future that the capitalist class is determined to create, and that the Biden administration is dutifully carrying out.
Biden and the Democratic Party are, and have always been, loyal stewards of capitalism. Attending to the interests of the billionaire class, their demand to get the economy “back on track,” is clearly much more important to them than taking the necessary measures to get the pandemic under control.
A System Designed to Fail
The failures of the Biden administration are not unique to him, or his party. Like every other capitalist government, the US political establishment has attempted to combat the pandemic within the limits acceptable to the pharmaceutical companies, with vaccine nationalism as the result.
Early in the pandemic, Pfizer openly declared that they intended to fight any attempt by the U.S. or any other government to share their patents with other countries so they could also produce the vaccine. The company has since made record breaking profits; in announcing their quarterly earnings back in November of 2021, they projected revenues of $36 billion dollars in 2022. In the same public earnings report, they brazenly declared that they intend to realize a 20% margin of profit on every dose!
Meanwhile, Pfizer has delivered less than 2% of the vaccine it produced to COVAX, the UN’s initiative of supplying vaccines to low income countries. This, combined with the failure of the Biden administration to utilize the powers codified in the Defense Authorization Act to take over whatever pharmaceutical production necessary to produce enough doses to vaccinate the world, has led us to this phase of the pandemic.
What’s the Alternative?
Director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned recently that it was “dangerous” to assume that omicron will be the final COVID variant, or that we are in the pandemic’s “endgame.” This underscores the urgency of an approach that will put people over profit, and prioritize getting vaccines into billions more people rather than sacrifice them to the property rights of corporations.
But clearly, working people cannot trust the Biden administration (or a Democratic Congress) to do what is necessary to get the pandemic under control. The year 2022 has already been marked by workers taking their safety into their own hands – teachers in Chicago took action to keep buildings closed as Omicron threatened their school communities and caused massive staffing shortages, and Starbucks workers in Buffalo staged a five-day strike to win paid isolation days after contact with COVID. Not only does this show that workers are more than capable of making decisions about their safety and organizing democratically to effect those changes, it shows what is possible beyond the pandemic – that workers themselves are capable of running society more safely, more effectively, and more humanely than capitalism ever could.