Eaton: Let’s give accessible healthcare a shot

The link between economic stability and public health has never been clearer.

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Emily Eaton

Free donuts from Krispy Kreme. Drinks from Anheuser-Busch, America’s largest brewery company. “Shot for Shots” programs, where you get a vaccine and chase it with a free drink. Or, you can kill two birds with one stone(r) with “Joints for Jabs.” These are just some of the incentives established by city and state governments across the United States to get people vaccinated against COVID-19. Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio even announced a $1 million dollar lottery for vaccinated residents. To some, this may seem like an extravagant waste of money, but as Gov. DeWine explained in an interview with The Washington Post, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic is a life lost to COVID-19.”

It only took 15 months of masking up and staying inside for state governments and national corporations alike to agree that a price tag cannot be put on human lives. Actually, that’s not quite right. It took 15 months of economic stagnation, supply chain disruption, unemployment and civil unrest for governments and corporations to understand that they stand to profit significantly from mass vaccinations and a return to normalcy.

With the exception of anti-vaxxers, we are looking at a bipartisan solution to the current pandemic. According to a Pew Research survey from the summer of 2020, a majority of Democrats view the reduction of infection rates as key to economic recovery. Many Republicans believe we need to reopen regardless of infection rate in order to spur economic recovery. The more citizens who receive vaccinations, the more rapidly we can fully reopen. We can have our cake and eat it too, but only if people actually get vaccinated.

If government institutions, large businesses and our political parties see the benefit of providing citizens with free and accessible vaccinations for this pandemic, this same logic can easily be applied to other illnesses and preventative care. The estimated annual cost of influenza in the U.S. ranges from $1 to $5 billion dollars a year — which does not include lost wages, childcare costs and other unforeseen expenses. Without insurance, a flu shot can cost between $40 and $70 dollars at your local pharmacy. That may not seem cost prohibitive, but fewer than 50% of Americans regularly get a flu shot.

Let’s do some quick math here: over the last few months, most of the nation has worked to establish easily accessible, sometimes unorthodox testing sites and vaccination centers. If we keep these centers and sites open and functioning — regardless of the state of the COVID-19 pandemic — with the goal of repurposing them for different illnesses depending on the season, we could reduce infection rates across the board. While free or low-cost healthcare is seen as an unnecessary expense by some, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the economic repercussions of not listening to public health officials are far more severe. Maintaining and improving upon the infrastructure established during this pandemic may seem costly when we are not in the midst of a pandemic, but the human lives saved and long-term financial gain stand to outweigh the cost. I apologize if you thought I was going to actually do math here.

It is now clear as day that economic growth and stability are not just about the stock market, gross domestic product and other complicated economic ideas. At the end of the day, our economy functions because people are able to go out into the world and work. A healthy, capable workforce is the keystone species of the economic biome. Without it, the entire system is disrupted. With mobile, accessible locations, local public health departments will be able to cater effectively and efficiently to their community. Not only would overall quality of life be improved in a nation notorious for atrocious healthcare, but the workforce would be stronger than ever. If and when the next pandemic strikes, we will still have the healthcare infrastructure we need to fight back.

Americans should get more out of these past 15 months than anxiety about crowded spaces and a hatred of Zoom. We have the opportunity to fundamentally change the way healthcare works in this country and reap the economic benefits of doing so. By repurposing the infrastructure we’ve established to fight more than just the COVID-19 pandemic, we can keep people in the workforce, ensure children stay in school and cultivate a healthier nation.