Vaccine Politics

I was watching TV this week and saw two related stories. One featured a truck delivering the first coronavirus vaccines to Ohio, where a masked Governor DeWine took a look at one box being unloaded, as shown in the photo above. The other was a story saying that the NFL was not going to try to cut in line so that its players and coaches would get the vaccine before others do.

The second story seemed weird to me. I’m sure the NFL thought it was being noble by publicly announcing that it was eschewing any effort to jump the queue for vaccinations. But I had the opposite reaction: why in the world would the NFL even entertain the notion of trying to move up the vaccine priority list? The fact that the NFL apparently considered it, and decided not to try, just shows the risk of political games being played with vaccine distribution and administration.

I suppose this should not be surprising to anyone. The coronavirus has had a devastating effect on our society, our culture, our economy, and individual families who have suffered losses of loved ones. Of course people are going to want to get the vaccine so they can put this whole weird chapter of their lives behind them, and the sooner the better. (Unless, of course, they are anti-vaxxers who aren’t going to get vaccinated at all.) But priorities have to be established so that there’s not a mad scramble for inoculation, and that means there’s a chance that people will try to pull rank, call in favors, apply pressure, and move up the list.

The initial priorities are easy: front-line health care workers and the places where COVID-19 has had the greatest impact — such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities — and that’s how Ohio is going to proceed. But the tougher questions come after those obvious initial candidates are identified. I think there should be some consideration of impact and risk in the distribution decisionmaking. People who work in areas of the economy that have been crushed by shutdown orders, like restaurants and the arts, should have the opportunity to get vaccinated before white-collar workers who have been able to safely continue their jobs from home. And people who have existing health care conditions that increase the impact of the coronavirus should be ahead of healthy people.

I’m happy to wait my turn — hey, if the NFL is doing it, so can I — but I’ll be very interested to see how the vaccine rolls out. I’ll be watching to see when the political types get their shots.

Mumps On Campus

The Ohio State University is reporting an outbreak of 23 cases of mumps on campus. Eighteen students and one staff member — as well as others with links to the University community — apparently have the disease.

Mumps is one of those diseases, like scarlet fever or measles, that people used to get as kids before vaccines became commonplace. I had mumps when I was a tot, and so did all of the kids in my family. I remember being tired and having a sore throat and swollen glands, but getting to eat ice cream and drink 7-Up and read Archie comic books in bed made it bearable.

We tend to think of childhood diseases as not so serious, and usually they aren’t — at least, not if you get them when you’re a kid. If you get mumps as an adult, however, it can have more serious consequences, including swelling in some tender areas for post-pubescent males. Mumps also is the kind of disease that sounds tailor-made for transmission in a college campus setting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“Mumps is spread by droplets of saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat of an infected person, usually when the person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Items used by an infected person, such as soft drink cans or eating utensils, can also be contaminated with the virus, which may spread to others if those items are shared. In addition, the virus may spread when someone with mumps touches items or surfaces without washing their hands and someone else then touches the same surface and rubs their mouth or nose.”

Now, compare that description of mumps transmission to the close quarters and hygiene standards found in the off-campus residences and dorm rooms maintained by college students, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering how big an outbreak of mumps on a college campus could become. (If you’re an Ohio State basketball fan, you also find yourself hoping that all of the members of the team have been vaccinated.)

Which raises one final point: you don’t get mumps if you had it as a kid or you’ve been vaccinated. I thought vaccinations for mumps was pretty universal in the United States. An outbreak of 23 cases of the mumps suggests that understanding may be unfounded — which is deeply troubling. Aren’t parents getting basic vaccinations for their kids these days? If they aren’t, why not? It makes you wonder if other basic public health steps are being ignored, and what other outbreaks and consequences might lie in store for us as a result.