Jaco: COVID confusion due to crackpot ideology

I got my COVID-19 vaccine by accident.

As a certified geezer (70, cardiac pacemaker, blah blah blah) I wanted to see where and when I might possibly receive a vaccine. I went online at the County Health Department, registered, and got an automated “we’ll let you know” email in response.

I checked with my doctor and the hospital system (Mercy) to which he’s attached. I was told by both that they hadn’t heard anything from the states about vaccines.

That same night, I randomly scrolled through Facebook before bed, and saw a post, with a link, from a woman claiming that Mercy South (the former St. Anthony’s) was taking reservations for vaccines.

I checked the link, half expecting to be connected to a Nigerian phishing scam, and instead found myself on a Mercy Health System page listing dates and times available for the vaccines. Still suspicious, I randomly clicked on 2:45 p.m. on a Monday. It directed me to a form where I was told to state why I was eligible for a vaccine. After I entered “geezer, pacemaker” (I was actually a little more specific), ta-dah, I had an appointment.

I immediately copied and pasted the link to both my Facebook and Twitter accounts, pointing out that I had, literally, stumbled upon this. I got 25 messages back, all saying the senders had registered themselves or family members, and thanking me.

I’ve now received the first vaccine (Pfizer), and am scheduled to get the second. And it has all been pure, unadulterated, dumb-as-a-sack-of-hammers luck. Chaos, of course, is no way to run a vaccine program in a pandemic. But this is what you get when a state government, and the federal government before Jan. 20, have been run by people who think government sucks, and spend all their time in office proving it.

Trump, of course, knew about COVID over a year ago but lied about its severity, dismissed scientific warnings, and, having dismantled the National Security Council Pandemic Task Force because it was set up by Obama, bungled the federal response.

Now, almost 500,000 American dead later, we’re paying the price.

In an act of criminal incompetence, Trump shifted responsibility for COVID to the states. In Missouri, that meant a GOP super-majority legislature marinated in Trumpian extremism and COVID denial and a governor who refused to issue a statewide mask mandate. In heights of rhetoric not scaled in Missouri since Winston Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech at Westminster College in 1946, Gov. Mike Parson campaigned in 2020 grousing about “those dang masks.”

But Missouri’s response to COVID has been hamstrung by more than just populist rhetoric aimed at the rural and exurban white QAnon crowd. The public health infrastructure has been gutted over the years by rural Jefferson City extremists who believe “public” is synonymous with “Black welfare queens”; and Missouri’s state health department is headed by a man who admitted in court that he kept a spreadsheet tracking menstrual periods of women who visited St. Louis’ Planned Parenthood clinic.

In 2002, local public health departments in Missouri received about $10 million appropriated from general revenue funds. Almost two decades later, the number is closer to $3 million, a 2/3 reduction in funding for the state’s 114 local health departments.

As Missouri’s public health infrastructure deteriorated, later disgraced then-Gov. Eric Greitens aimed for rock bottom when he hired Dr. Randall Williams to head the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Dr. Randall Williams
Williams, an OB-GYN by training, was appointed Public Health Director in North Carolina in July 2015. In 2016, he ruled that well water near Duke Energy’s coal ash dumps was safe to drink. But North Carolina’s chief toxicologist testified that Williams lied. And ignored evidence that chemicals in the ash were showing up in significant amounts in nearby drinking water.

Williams was then given a new job on (wait for it) a North Carolina state board regulating energy producers. Such as Duke Energy. A new North Carolina governor fired him. Then-governor Greitens hired him in Missouri.

Planned Parenthood, 4251 Forest Park Parkway
Fast forward to 2019, when Williams testified that he kept a spreadsheet tracking the menstrual periods of some women who visited Planned Parenthood in St. Louis. This was part of the state’s effort to close the clinic, and to track “failed abortions,” shortly after the legislature passed a ban on abortions after eight weeks, a law found “blatantly unconstitutional” by a federal court.

The public health infrastructure in Missouri and the state agency overseeing it are both financially compromised and ideologically corrupted. And every mistake, bungle and faceplant Parson has made during the COVID crisis comes from a lack of money for public health and an excess of extremist ideology.

Chaos in knowing where to get a vaccine? Parson’s hands-off approach is to blame.

Lack of vaccines in the St. Louis area while mass vaccination clinics are set up in COVID-denying rural areas? The GOP super-majority’s racist-based anti-urban bias is at work.

Offering shots at Wal Marts? More of the same, since there isn’t a Wal Mart in the city, and only two in St. Louis County are offering shots, while tiny red communities such as Nixa or Malden have plenty of Wal Mart vaccines for their small, almost exclusively white rural populations.

Dr. Alex Garza
Parson throwing a tantrum and accusing St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force head Dr. Alex Garza of “lying” about a shortage of vaccines in the St. Louis region? Again, we go back to the racist anti-lib bias against urban areas, along with Parson’s tenuous grasp of facts. The governor falsely claimed the St. Louis region had “50,000 unused vaccines.” It turns out 49,600 of those are second vaccines reserved for people who’ve already received their first shots.

All of this confusion and chaos — all of it — is just the logical conclusion of an extremist governing philosophy in Missouri. The elitist GOP ruling class has a grudge against the most heavily populated areas of the state. They have a bias against both the basic functions of government and science. 

They’re a threat at least as much as COVID to the health of the people in this state.

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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