Even as America topped a million coronavirus deaths on Monday, congressional Republicans continued playing games with vaccine funding, holding it up over an unrelated immigration debate. The same short-sighted politics are also preventing the U.S. from pledging funding to an international effort that would ultimately help prevent resurgences here. These are just the latest chapters in the sad history of how pandemic politicization has, at almost every juncture, made the nation’s most devastating health crisis in a century worse than it had to be.
It’s easy to become jaded tossing around such numbers, but 1 million American deaths in 2½ years should continue to shock. That’s more Americans than died in the Spanish flu epidemic of a century ago, more than the four-decade total of the AIDS epidemic, more than were killed in all the nation’s wars combined. Or, to put it on a more local scale, it’s as if the entire population of St. Louis County had been wiped out.
This deadly milestone might have been avoided if not for the early refusal by then-President Donald Trump to heed experts’ dire predictions and take it seriously. (He suggested in the early days that the coronavirus would disappear in a matter of days.) Or if the political right hadn’t politicized masks and social distancing. Or if so many elected Republicans hadn’t exploited the once-fringe anti-vaccination movement to win votes.