When public will fails a pandemic response, it may fail against other threats, too

By Dennis Archambault

Of the many lessons learned – or at least taught – during the pandemic is that our nation struggles with consensus over national security matters. The coronavirus pandemic is a national security issue. We were in a better position to respond to the threat than many countries and managed to have one of the worst performances – in large part because we couldn’t agree there was even a problem, to begin with, and then what do about it and how to do it. As scientific understanding evolved and public health adjusted, politics and stubborn social resistance has made each phase of the American experience very difficult to manage.

In his article, focused on the reality that the coronavirus will likely remain a vital threat for years, Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson introduces the elephant in the room: “My more immediate concern is what this nation’s continuing resistance to the vaccine — despite manufacturing more of it than any other country, we have the highest rate of vaccine hesitancy in the developed world — says about our capacity to collaborate effectively to achieve any national objective.”

Public health is often intertwined with public policy and public opinion. While the authority rests with the public health system, the public will is required to successfully manage the disease, as we witnessed last year. Just as the Owosso barber decided not to honor Gov. Whitmer’s executive order – and sheriff’s departments throughout the state also decided not to enforce pandemic orders – we began to realize that democracy and its expressions had gone a bit haywire. Dickerson – like Dr. Fauci in his commencement address to Emory University recently – notes that the enemy is the virus and we failed to unite around it.

This is a sobering fact. As we move into the patriotic holiday season, we may want to give some quality time and thought to, as Dickerson writes, “the threats we face now — climate change, overpopulation, pandemics — demand that we manage our personal freedom more responsibly than we have in this pandemic. Herd immunity may be the least of what we squander if we trade ‘e Pluribus Unum for ‘Looking out for No. 1.’”

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.