Maryland Vaccine Roll-Out Shows Limits to a Humane Public Health Response under Capitalism

Hundreds of people received doses of vaccines that were mismanaged and ineffective. (Image Credit: Baltimore Sun)

Hundreds of Marylanders are being notified that they may have received ineffective vaccine doses. It has taken months for the Department of Health to begin to contact the 876 people who received at least one dose of a vaccine administered by TrueCare24, a San Francisco based company that was contracted by the state over the summer.

In June, TrueCare24 won a 1.4-million-dollar contract with the state to carry out vaccination drives that did not meet the state’s requirements for medical equipment and staff certifications. Numerous people in the state health Department reported the mishandling of vaccine doses and negligent behavior by TrueCare24. Vaccine doses were left in cars and hotel rooms overnight compromising the effectiveness of the vaccine, which must be kept at a temperature around -94 degrees Fahrenheit. Their concerns were ignored by higher-ups, and the company continued administering vaccines from July through September. As one whistleblower said, “my concerns about safety and quality were in the way of operations.” This was at a time when the state vaccine contracts were paid on a per-dose basis, which incentivized private companies to get as many doses out as possible, regardless of maintaining the efficacy of the vaccines. TrueCare24 is not unique in its handling of their vaccines, only in the publicity of their case. There is evidence that other vendors have mishandled vaccines, and TrueCare24 could be just “the tip of the iceberg”.

This blatant action from the authorities shows how little they care for our lives. It is particularly horrific that nearly one-third of those vaccinated by TrueCare24 were incarcerated. The CDC’s recommendation that the state revaccinate at least 1,000 people is completely detached from the reality that many people in jails and prisons, and the general population, are living in cramped conditions that leave them completely vulnerable to the virus, and with low vaccination rates to begin with. Meanwhile, with the Omicron surge, it will be unlikely that people are able to get vaccinated due to the time requirements between contracting the virus and getting vaccinated.

Even as the state attempts to contact those impacted by the company’s negligence, it is functioning without full records or documentation provided by TrueCare24. For now, the case is being heard by state officials who wring their hands and wonder if they have any authority to do anything about this criminal act.

This is only one case among many that show the inability of capitalism, and the capitalist state, to respond to a public health emergency. At a time when people’s health and wellbeing depend on a coordinated, rapid response, the state’s responds by auctioning off the response to private firms.

We’ve seen similar scenarios play out during the pandemic in Maryland. From Governor Hogan’s 9-million-dollar overpayment deal for unapproved COVID tests, to Emergent BioSolutions ruining 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines, these are the ways public funds have been used: by funneling money into the pockets of the rich.

These deals are criminal. They directly cause working and poor people to not get the tests, vaccines, and healthcare we need. They contributes to the chaos that has been the last 2 years of the pandemic: that we cannot stop the spread of this virus if we don’t have a coordinated response. If healthcare professionals and workers were in charge of coordinating a vaccine rollout, it would mean everyone’s safety would be put first, instead of profit.

The Maryland state government has unapologetically shown us that they will funnel lifesaving dollars for public health and safety into the pockets of private companies. Enriching themselves and businesses in the middle of a global pandemic. The people in power have clearly shown us that they are not going to protect us. And Maryland is far from alone.  Wherever we are, we have seen similar scandalous behavior by people in power.  Fixing it is up to us, the working and poor people of Maryland and everywhere.