Politicians such as Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham have faced backlash after publicly receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Both have previously opposed safety protocols and endorsed superspreader events. Their place in line to receive the vaccine in front of healthcare workers demonstrates a fundamental problem of the privilege our leaders have hidden behind during this pandemic.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” the prince of a country stricken by plague hides behind the thick walls of his castle with the privileged few while his people suffer. Though the story was written a little under 200 years ago, its plot shares eerie similarities with the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Poe’s symbolic walls that separates the prince from his people have taken shape in our country as something more complex and invisible. Developments in the distribution of the vaccine have shown that the walls separating us from our leadership takes the form of privilege.
As the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine begin to roll out, Americans are once again made aware of the medical and social inequalities that run rampant through our country. Dynamics of power and privilege have reared their heads in the face of a limited supply of a life-saving vaccine. While the country fights through spikes in cases caused by holiday celebrations and the winter months, vaccines have been improperly stored, intentionally left out of refrigeration to expire, and distributed to those in power who have arguably made the pandemic worse. Those who have been a part of the effort to slow the spread of the virus have reasonable grounds for being frustrated by this mishandling of the vaccine distribution. However, those such as healthcare workers who have put their lives on the line to keep our economy running deserve to be utterly outraged by the situation.
Many healthcare workers around the country are still waiting to receive their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. For them, this means returning to a workplace in which they are continuously exposed to the virus by those who most likely chose to ignore social distance and mask protocols. Further, hospitals around the country are continuously overwhelmed by the extreme increase in caseloads. Healthcare workers have experienced the worst parts of the pandemic, ranging from their experiences of seeing countless people succumb to the virus to social distancing from loved ones in order to keep treating patients.
It takes a degree of entitlement to ignore the pandemic and expect to receive medical care from these healthcare workers. However, some politicians have gone beyond this already astounding level of entitlement to also expect to be vaccinated against the virus before these healthcare workers. Many politicians who have received vaccines before healthcare workers, have had a direct hand in minimizing efforts to slow the spread of the virus, encouraging people to ignore the need for masks and social distance protocols. It goes without saying that these politicians have chosen to be reckless with their own exposure to the virus and encourage others to do the same. They hide, shouting behind their walls at us to ignore safety protocols in the name of their economy.
It is nonetheless difficult to say that politicians who have opposed lockdowns and other protocols to slow the spread of the virus should be denied the vaccine until others are inoculated. The persisting argument for their access to the vaccine is that of their duty to leadership. If nothing else, it would be unfair to those who follow social distance protocols to experience a sudden shift in leadership if their senator or representative got sick.
Further, it should be noted that many politicians have taken the vaccine in order to build confidence in the vaccine’s safety. However, their act of receiving the vaccine after stark resistance to any other actions to slow the spread of the virus is still hypocritical and demonstrates poor ethics of leadership. Leaders should not hide behind their privilege while advocating for those on the outside to put their lives at risk for the sake of the economy. We do not live in Poe’s world of castles and monarchs who can hide away from their subjects and throw grand masquerades during pandemics. Instead, our democratically elected leaders should strive to hold their constituents’ health and safety as something they cannot ignore or hide from.
Melanie Moyer '22,