We Are Going to Reopen Way Before Most Are Vaccinated

The pandemic was a premier exercise in ruling class irrationality, whose senseless policies were, at best, drawn from conjectural models, and at worst, from Hollywood movies. And as politicians shifted their pandemic policies with changing political priorities, science was always there to provide ideological justification. 

Now that finance capital has had enough, as JP Morgan signalled through a recent study that concluded that the pandemic would be “effectively” over by April, science is delivering its final act in subservience to market imperatives with a quickly shifting stance on vaccinations and herd immunity. 

But Capital’s new political priority means that there is simply not enough time to deploy vaccinations in time for the new April deadline. Even as science has yet to catch up fully, states like Mississippi, Connecticut, Arizona, Maryland and West Virginia are leading the way in quickly lifting restrictions despite high case numbers and low vaccination rates. 

These states are harbingers of the future. The vaccination campaign will be nowhere near finished in mostly any major OECD country before the lockdowns are entirely lifted. Capitalist states lack material pressure to lead a successful vaccination campaign. Their populations’ health and welfare are of no interest to them unless it affects working-class people’s ability to work. COVID-19 never did that; ergo there is nothing to motivate capitalist states to inoculate their populations. The pandemic will end in a whimper and not a victory cry. 

The hallowed COVID-19 vaccine was expected to be the decisive factor in ending the rolling lockdowns experienced by billions worldwide. For instance, Canada’s chief public health officer has said that a massive vaccination campaign is the key to ending the pandemic protocols entirely. Although the US is taking a more patchwork approach, Dr. Fauci has famously claimed that between 75-80% of the population would need to be vaccinated to sufficiently inoculate the population. Likewise, in Britain, the government’s “reopening plan” is premised on the idea of mass vaccination—and so far, at least £12 billion has been spent on it, with the government declaring the vaccination plan to be a spending priority. 

Altogether, OECD countries have invested billions of dollars into the research and development of the vaccine. They’ve promised billions more in enormous contracts to acquire sufficient doses for their populations. But the total amount of taxpayer money spent is unknown as vaccine contracts have been shrouded in secrecy. 

In spite of all of this investment, the vaccine rollout in most advanced capitalist nations (with the notable exception of Israel) has been underwhelming, to say the least. The US has not even fully vaccinated 10% of its population, despite administering injections nearly three months ago in December 2020. The UK lags way behind at under 2% of its population fully vaccinated.  Over in China, the epicentre of the pandemic and the world’s leading manufacturer, they’re lagging far behind these even those advanced nations. 

The running assumption by most of the Left, the Right, and the bourgeoisie proper is that COVID-19 and its attendant lockdowns were encumbering the economy. As we’ve previously argued, this view is not borne out by the production and employment data. The Chinese saw reduced output figures last year, as did every other major economy. However, industrial production in the Chinese economy rebounded within a month, as it did in all other advanced capitalist nations. The relative lag in terms of vaccination reflects the fact COVID-19 does not affect production as capitalists initially feared, and never has. The current downturn is instead due to a structurally-induced recession. 

The pandemic has never been a significant threat to the economy. For working-age people and their children, COVID-19 was no worse than the baseline seasonal flu. Employment “roared” back in February, even as cases remained high and lockdowns in place. In their recent budget, British finance minister Rishi Sunak projected that the British economy would grow by 4% in the coming year and stated that the country’s economy would be back to it’s “pre-covid” levels by mid-2022. The fact that the vaccination campaign throughout the world is falling further demonstrates the thesis correct.

If the working class had itself pushed for the vaccine, Capital would have responded—even if the pandemic was having no effect on their profits. But the working class has not been disturbed enough to agitate for a vaccine. There have been no strikes or work stoppages, save for the teachers in the US who threatened industrial action over school reopenings. In Britain the only significant protests also came from the teacher’s unions, but their efforts fell far short of threatening to strike 

The lack of class pressure, coupled with the absence of any deleterious effect on profit generation, has meant that capitalists states have had no material reason to recruit the manpower, technology, and coordination to actualize a successful vaccination campaign. For instance, AstraZeneca claims to have an additional 30 million doses ready for deployment, and 15 to 20 million doses per month thereafter. And yet AstraZeneca has not submitted an application for FDA approval and has no timeline to do so. Not exactly the behaviour of a bourgeoisie whose bottom line is actually in jeopardy. 

While capitalist countries are undoubtedly in a state of decay and sclerosis, there is no doubt that had this virus posed a genuine threat to production or finance capital, they would have moved mountains to ensure a successful vaccination campaign was achieved.

The pharmaceutical industry indeed has an interest in states purchasing their vaccines, and many have committed to doing so already (the US has placed orders for more doses than it has people). But there is zero financial benefit for these companies in ensuring that their products are distributed in a timely fashion, and certainly not on any timeline that finance capital would dream up. Luckily for these pharmaceutical companies, it looks like the major capitalist states are moving to make a COVID-19 vaccine a yearly occurrence, as Johnson & Johnson’s CEO has recently stated and has been floated in the British media.   

Finance capital is slowly beginning to acknowledge that vaccines will not be adequately distributed for some time to come. The Financial Times recently ran a piece acknowledging that it could take 15 months to fully inoculate the adult populations of rich nations. The article goes on to say that even when vaccine production ramps up significantly—output increasing five and seven times its current level in the next quarter—issues with states’ distribution capabilities make it unlikely that doses will be administered quickly.

So how will the bourgeoisie justify The Great Reopening in advance of full vaccination? Likely by declaring that herd immunity has been reached through natural infection and the small share of their newly-inoculated populations. Talk of herd immunity being reached by the mythical April deadline is already being repeated in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, and bourgeois science has already gone out of their way to argue that herd immunity can be reached in the US by late spring. 

And so, the pandemic which began with hysteria will end with barely any notice. All of its harms will be neatly folded into the general and ongoing destruction wrought by Capital upon the working class, who will bear the brunt of this “post-covid” economic recovery through a downwards push against their living standards and wages.