“Drug addicts” also need vaccines


ALBANY – A few days ago, U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik criticized Andrew Cuomo for allowing “drug addicts” to receive relatively early doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“America’s worst governor streak continues,” Stefanik wrote on Twitter. “This time, priority is given to vaccines for drug addicts over the tens of thousands of seniors who have been confined to their homes since the start of the pandemic. An absolute disgrace.”

Let me start by thanking Stefanik, who lives in Saratoga County, for being one of the members of Congress to refuse an early dose of the vaccine. It was distasteful that healthy young politicians such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the lower-state Democrat, stepped in the line as so many people in need of the vaccine wait.

“She will only take the vaccine after the most vulnerable groups have been served,” Stefanik spokesperson Alex DeGrasse told me. “She is a healthy 36 year old woman.”

Good. But that tweet about drug addicts and the vaccine? Not so good.

I would say that was misleading because it’s not like being addicted is enough to get a person vaccinated. Cuomo only said residents of the state’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports facilities would be high on the priority vaccine list, after medical workers, nursing home residents and other populations. at high risk. These OASAS residents are, in the scheme of things, a relatively small number of people.

“These are collective installations. Assembly facilities are problematic, ”the governor said on Monday, adding that“ nursing homes are obviously the most problematic, as they bring together older and vulnerable people ”.

Certainly, there are valid reasons for not agreeing with New York’s vaccine distribution priorities, with some critics making strong arguments that distribution should be based purely on age once medical workers have reached their goal. been vaccinated. The elderly, after all, are the most vulnerable to the virus.

But people living in collective facilities are particularly disadvantaged. It is more difficult for them to isolate themselves. They have staff and others coming and going from their homes. Such places are fertile ground for the spread of the virus.

What really bothers me about Stefanik’s tweet is his seemingly implicit suggestion that this very important public health decision should be based on assumptions about the moral worth of the person receiving the vaccine. The MP for North Country seems to be suggesting that drug addicts should merit the vaccine early.

Why? Because they are, what, in a way less virtuous?

I wish I could ask Father Peter Young what he thinks about it. Young, a prominent priest in the capital region who died last month, has spent his life arguing that drug addiction is a disease rather than a moral failure. He believed that the light of God is inside of every person, no matter what the problems are in their life.

In an ideal world, of course, the vaccine would be readily available to anyone who wants it, and governments wouldn’t need to prioritize who gets it first. What we have instead, of course, is a supply and demand problem that forces governments to make tough decisions.

Clearly, these decisions should be driven entirely by saving lives and preventing the spread of the virus. Assumptions about the virtue of recipients shouldn’t be part of the discussion, and politicians shouldn’t use the heightened emotions surrounding the vaccine to flatter one group at the expense of another.

I asked Stefanik’s office if she would be willing to put meat on the bones of her tweet and explain why, precisely, she objects to residents of OASAS drug rehab centers receiving the vaccine. relatively early. In response, DeGrasse said Stefanik’s position was based on guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

“Governor Cuomo is once again the only governor in the country to blatantly ignore CDC guidelines regarding vaccine distribution,” DeGrasse said in a written response, noting that the CDC recommends “that vaccine distribution give the priority to healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities, on the front line. essential workers ”and others.

But those who live in OASAS rehabilitation centers are residents of long-term care facilities, and New York’s priority vaccine list is generally in line with the CDC’s vaccine recommendations, which note the dangers. very real COVID-19 group living situations. In this case, it is simply not true that Cuomo is ignoring CDC guidelines.

That’s not to say the vaccine rollout in New York is going as well or as quickly as it should. There has been confusion over who will distribute the vaccine, with the state recently ruling out counties that have been preparing for years on how to handle the widespread distribution of the vaccine. There are indications that the first phase of distribution is far too slow.

But none of this has anything to do with people struggling to overcome addiction.

[email protected] ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @chris_churchill

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