Editorial

Administration COVID Vaccine Mandates Questioned

09/13/2021

Faced with increasing cases of the COVID Delta variant among the non-vaccinated segment of our population, the Administration has introduced vaccine mandates for large-scale employers, government workers and the military. The announcement borne of frustration is intended to protect workers from infection disseminated by the unvaccinated.  This step has predictably entrenched opposition to the government mandate and has further politicized vaccination and control of COVID. Under different circumstances the pandemic could have been regarded simply as a public health issue caused by influenza, measles or smallpox.  The mandate was issued against a backdrop of confirmed epidemiologic and laboratory studies that clearly indicate the benefit of vaccination especially when coupled with masking and other common-sense precautions. 

 

  • For those denying the existence of COVID, one has to recognize 660,000 U.S. fatalities over 18 months. Cynically one is reminded of Stalin’s comment on mortality as a result of starvation in Russia as "one death is a tragedy, 1,000 deaths are a statistic". 
  • For those doubting the effectiveness of an approved vaccine, over 90 percent of those currently hospitalized with COVID were not vaccinated.  Those who were vaccinated and require treatment invariably have one or more predisposing conditions including advanced age, diabetes, heart disease or immunosuppression.  The Moderna RNA vaccine administered under emergency use authorization has a 95 percent protection rate against hospitalization.  The approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine provides upwards of 80 percent protection against hospitalization among vaccinates who are infected. 
  • For those doubting the severity of the Delta variant of COVID, mortality for the three days preceding the 9/11 memorial day approximated the number of people murdered in the terrorist event.  Daily mortality now ranges from 700 to 1,000 with 90 percent of the total completely unnecessary.  On Saturday, September 11th 57,000 new cases were diagnosed with 700 dead on that day.
  • For those doubting the benefit of a high level of population immunity, there is a direct correlation between vaccination rates that are as low as 40 percent in some southern states and the incidence rate and number of ICU beds occupied. Idaho with a 40 percent vaccination rate is recording a 25 percent positive rate on testing and has 550 hospitalized of whom 97 percent are unvaccinated. The state is recording 1,200 new cases daily in a population of 1.9 million, corresponding to a rate of 632 per 100,000.  Vermont with a 69 percent vaccination rate is recording 160 new cases per day or a rate of  24 per 100,000 daily over the past week.

CDC COVID Tracker

 

At the current time 73 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 have received one vaccination and 54 percent are fully vaccinated.  Some northeastern states including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont have fully vaccinated close to 70 percent of their populations. In contrast Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama range from 40 percent to 44 percent

The attempt by the Administration to increase the vaccinated proportion of the U.S population by mandate is well intentioned but misguided.  Those who are opposed to vaccine over safety concerns or the misplaced notion of ‘freedom of choice’ will certainly not be induced to receive a vaccine under circumstances regarded as coercion. 

 

The mandate may provide cover for employers to require administration of the fully approved vaccine or as an alternative, regular but expensive testing that may in reality be ineffective to prevent dissemination of COVID virus in the workplace.  There should be far more emphasis on the "carrot" than the "stick".  Justified exemptions should be allowed for sincere religious reasons or for justifiable health concerns.  All other non-vaccinated people should be encouraged by scientific fact and logic to receive a vaccine not only for themselves but also for their families and the community at large.  The actions by some state leaders in opposing masks and vaccine mandates may have a political appeal to hard-core deniers of COVID and those who dismiss the value of vaccines. Over the intermediate term, persistence of COVID will delay recovery of the economy and will be to the detriment of the citizens of states with high and prolonged incidence rates.

 

COVID is not "just a little flu" as claimed by Jair Bolsonaro, the President of Brazil who presides over a Nation where the disease is now out of control in many states.  COVID kills and is no respecter of age, state or political affiliation.  In addition to the acute clinical problems, it is now evident that chronic changes may affect as many as 30 percent of those who are infected, even individuals with mild symptoms.  We may in 10 to 20 years time be experiencing an elevation in premature death and disability from heart, renal, pulmonary and brain dysfunction. 

 

The only effective approaches to suppress COVID and to prevent the emergence of potentially more virulent and infectious variants will be to encourage vaccination by making it available, using positive incentives and attempting to counter the malicious, mischievous and misplaced misinformation on websites and fringe media.  It is ironic that two ultraconservative talk show hosts who deprecated COVID vaccination have succumbed to the infection.  Many among their bereaved families have commented publicly on the harm that the decedents caused.  We need positive role models in sport, politics, business, entertainment and religion to recognize their specific responsibility to encourage vaccination.  Mandates may achieve an incremental uptake of vaccine but will incur a cost in delaying attainment of herd immunity with unnecessary hospitalizations and inevitable fatalities.


 

National Chicken Council Responds to USDA Announcement to Expand Processing Capacity

09/06/2021

The American Rescue Plan involving expenditure of $1.9 trillion includes $500 million to expand meat and poultry processing capacity. According to Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, "the COVID pandemic led to massive disruption for growers, food workers and consumers alike".  He added, "COVID exposed the food system that was rigid, consolidated and fragile".  The comments by Secretary Vilsack are valid only with respect to the red meat sector that experienced noteworthy reductions in processing capacity due to COVID infection among plant workers during March to May of 2020.

 

There were no evident shortages in the supply of chicken as only a few complexes were affected that were limited to a short period during April and May of 2020.  There are currently over 150 plants processing chicken with an average throughput of 1.1 million birds per week.  The largest of plants processing 2.5 million birds per week each represent 1.5 percent of total weekly production.  In contrast large red-meat plants such as the Holcomb KS. beef plant operated by Tyson Foods or the Tar Heel, NC. hog plant operated by Smithfield Foods are responsible for up to 7 percent of the national production of their respective species.  Four major companies are responsible for 80 percent of red meat production, representing extreme consolidation.  In the U.S., the top ten broiler companies collectively represent about 75 percent of broiler output by live weight and also dispersed over many complexes in multiple states.

 

The broiler industry was active in implementing CDC recommendations to prevent transmission of COVID in plants as evidenced by the relatively low rates of transmission recorded, compared to the red meat sector.  Major broiler integrators were proactive in implementing health screening with paid quarantine and using of all available resources to protect workers from infection introducing vaccination as soon as it was available.

 

In their analysis of impacts from COVID, the NCC pointed out regulatory restraints including specific labeling requirements that prevented products to be redirected from food service to supply unprecedented retail demand.  Other problems experienced by producers included a shortage of skilled labor, truck drivers and inconsistency in USDA inspection.  All integrators honored contracts with growers. The major disruption in the chain of production of both hogs and beef did not occur in the broiler industry due to the higher level of integration and geographic dispersal of complexes. 

 

The National Chicken Council suggests that the USDA consider increasing cold storage capacity and expanding the long-haul trucking fleet to eliminate bottlenecks in the supply chain.  The need to expand access to credit for small businesses was emphasized by the NCC.

 

The USDA initiative in expanding meat and poultry processing capacity appears to favor small-scale local slaughter of beef and hogs.  It is apparent the USDA is involved in an economic exercise counter to efficiency and sustainability as expressed by Secretary Vilsack "to shift the balance of power back to the people, USDA will invest in building more, better and fairer markets for producers and consumers alike".

 

A proliferation of small-scale broiler-processing plants will not in any way contribute to greater food security in the chicken industry. Obvious restraints will exist related to the supply of live birds or the ability of small companies to implement effective marketing programs due to inadequate scale and efficiency. Funding “small and local,” is a preoccupation of Secretary Vilsack and his Department. Funding small plants is in accordance with his concept of reforming agriculture and creating an approach to food production opposing scale of operation. The chicken industry has evolved over 70 years to achieve the current level of integration, consolidation and efficiency reflected in low shelf prices. Dynamic and fair competition among broiler producers coupled with investment in technology, personnel and equipment is reflected in lower prices at the checkout counter.

 

Why revert to a model that was rendered obsolete by macroeconomic forces to satisfy either altruistic aspirations or political expediency? We have been there and we progressed to a more productive industry, beneficial to contractors, shareholders, suppliers and consumers as joint stakeholders. The USDA is urged not to expend public funds on Quixotic schemes to reinvent the chicken industry. While it is acknowledged that there are problems in the red meat sector, with respect to the chicken industry Secretary Vilsack would be well advised to follow the adage "if it's not broken don’t try and fix it".


 
 
Copyright © 2021 Simon M. Shane