Politics of COVID-19 echo past struggles not seen since AIDS crisis

A UCSF researcher who spent much of his early career fighting HIV explains why he believes our current debates are part of a broader political issue.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Not since the AIDS crisis, has a disease been so political. And much of the reaction to COVID-19 has clearly split along America's fault lines.

From debates over re-starting schools, to re-opening businesses, to perhaps the most visible symbol of all, whether to even wear a mask at public events.

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"I think the yelling and the calling people stupid on both sides by the way, I think it is absolutely not doing us any good," says UCSF researcher Monica Gandhi, M.D.

Dr. Gandhi recently led a groundbreaking study on the benefits of masking and worries about the effects of mistrust and cynicism in our national dialogue - And there's growing evidence for concern.

In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, more than half of people said they wouldn't be inclined to get a coronavirus vaccine shot if it became available before the election, with a majority of those fearing it could be rushed into use for political reasons.

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President Donald Trump is openly contradicting the government's top health experts, predicting a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus could be ready as early as next month.

Stanford infectious disease expert Yvonne Maldonado, M.D., says trust is critical to any effective vaccine program.

"Safety is the most important thing. If we don't produce a safe vaccine, we will lose the confidence of the public," argues Dr. Maldonado.

New studies suggest the percentage of Americans with health insurance has dropped since the beginning of the pandemic, potentially setting the stage for even more divisive debates down the road over the availability of new COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.

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UCSF researcher, Eric Goosby, M.D., spent much of his early career fighting HIV, and believes our current debates are part of a broader political issue.

"It speaks to the need for health care reform in a big way. That's another discussion, but boy did COVID show us, we have not got this covered," says Dr. Goosby.

And this week, the political divide stretched internationally, when a consortium of developing countries asked for a limit on patent protections for coronavirus vaccines, saying they will be unable to pay the anticipated prices of commercially produced vaccines.

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