While Europe has now largely confined Covid vaccination to older and vulnerable groups, the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has chosen a different path. Yesterday, it accepted the advice of an advisory panel and recommended the XBB.1.5 jabs to everyone six months and older. It insists that “the benefits of vaccination exceed the risks for everyone” and hope vaguely that this “universal recommendation” will “ease the rollout of the vaccine and improve access and equity”.
“Let’s keep America strong, healthy,” said Dr. Camille Kotton, a panel member who voted in favour of the recommendation and who is an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School. “Let’s do away with COVID-19 as best we can by prevention of disease through vaccines. Let’s make things clear.”
The argument is not easy to parse. First, the vaccines are alleged to be universally beneficial, although no studies beyond a “CDC analysis” exist to support this broad claim. Second, the universal recommendation is necessary to ensure “equity” and “make things clear”. In other words, more targeted recommendations would sow confusion and limit their uptake among those groups who would benefit from them. Finally, our Dr. Kotton still hopes that the vaccines can “do away with COVID-19”. Either she knows better or she is lying, but once again, in the striving after an upside beyond benefits to the individual, we see an implicit acknowledgment that the vaccines aren’t universally beneficial after all.
An important consequence of the pandemic in the United States has been the alienation of a great part of the population from the project of public health in general on the one hand, and the overt politicisation of the CDC on the other. Before 2020, American medical mandarins at least claimed to work on behalf of society as a whole. Now and again, they even found occasion to worry about how their recommendations would affect their credibility among the entire population. They have since abandoned this mission, adopting a narrow, much more politicised hygiene extremism. Now they have dropped all pretence, appealing only to the highly radicalised Covidians and the pharmaceutical interest. Thus their rhetoric and their advice grows steadily more divorced from reality and reason, even as the actual threat of Covid recedes.
Ironically, the radicalism of the CDC arises from the success of the pandemicist opposition in the United States. America was one of the few Western countries that saw genuine resistance to the lockdowners and the vaccinators, extending even to elements of the political establishment. This opposition did serious damage to the entire enterprise of public health, and now millions of Americans will never care what the CDC says about anything ever again. In Europe, the mainstream parties formed a united front in support of the hygiene dictatorship, permitting our public health institutions to retain some claim to social consensus, however tenuous. On this side of the Atlantic, they still have something to lose, which is an incentive towards moderation.