Unequal Medical Treatment

Vice President Harris gets better care than the average American. Cue the outrage!

Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a Build Back Better virtual event with mayors from across the country Thursday, October 28, 2021, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Mother Jones’ Pema Levy wonders “Does Politico Know Who Kamala Harris Is?

Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive for Covid on Tuesday, and Politico wants to know why she is receiving top-of-the-line health care to treat it. Yesterday’s “West Wing Playbook” newsletter dedicated many paragraphs to pondering medical ethics and why Harris is taking Paxlovid, a highly effective new retroviral medication for Covid-19. But a good answer is only six words long: BECAUSE SHE IS THE VICE PRESIDENT!

Harris is the next in line to run the most powerful country in the world. She is also infected with a virus that can cause short and longterm illness, even in people who are healthy and vaccinated. So why wouldn’t she and her doctors take all possible precautions? Paxlovid is available with a prescription from a doctor for those at high risk of developing a severe case of Covid-19. Is the vice president an obese, diabetic octogenarian? No, but neither is she a 25-year-old athlete. Most importantly, she needs to be able to run the country at a moment’s notice. 

Still, Politico wants to know “Why did Kamala take the Pfizer pill?” even though she is, as far as we know, asymptomatic. The newsletter quotes doctors who question the prescription:

“Why,” asked JONATHAN REINER, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences, “would you give Paxlovid to someone without symptoms?”

Um, perhaps because she is the vice president?

Politico also contrasts Harris’ speedy access to Paxlovid with the difficulty many ordinary Americans have had accessing it: 

…medical ethicists argued that the moral rationalization for giving Harris the medication only underscores how unfair the system is.

“It’s what I make of the American health care system—better to be rich and connected,” said ARTHUR CAPLAN, a New York University professor of medical ethics.

Harris’ speedy access to Paxlovid sharply contrasts with the rest of the country’s ability to get it. The sheer logistics of finagling a prescription, and then finding the pills within days of symptom onset, has complicated the drug’s rollout after it was first authorized in December.

Yes, some people still have trouble getting Paxlovid. Yes, health care is better for the rich. Does that mean the vice president should not receive high-quality medical care? No—because she is the vice president. 

People are seriously debating this but . . . yeah. This seems like a no-brainer to me. I’m not Harris’ biggest fan but she’s the Vice President of the United States. She’s one 79-year-old heartbeat away from being the Leader of the Free World during multiple overlapping global crises. We should probably take every reasonable precaution to ensure her health and well-being.

When former President Trump came down with COVID, he was helicoptered to Walter Reed and given experimental treatments. These options were, to say the least, not available to the ordinary American. Yet, even though he was an absolutely horrible President and I’d have very much preferred to have Mike Pence in charge instead, it never occurred to me that we shouldn’t have pulled out all the stops to save him. Because he was the President of the United States.

Hell, few questioned how it was that the hundred-odd players and coaches on dozens of college football teams were able to secure daily COVID testing in the fall of 2020, when said tests were hard to come by for hospitals. It turns out that, where there’s money, there’s a way.

FILED UNDER: Health, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Indeed. Outrage, or even mild criticism of this, is dumb.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Leaving aside her position, as a 1, maybe 1.5%’er, she would receive better and more responsive care than they typical American on a group plan through their employer, forget about someone on Medicaid. That is how our system is designed.

    The Financial Times has an article up this morning on the privatization of the UK, National Health System, with the lede, “not how you think.” The article goes on the talk about how those who can afford it are going outside the NHS for care, because the system is overwhelmed. So even the holy grail of US leftists dreams for America’s healthcare future, can’t avoid those who can afford it, going outside the system.

    Whining about fairness is unbecoming.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    So even the holy grail of US leftists dreams for America’s healthcare future

    No one, and I mean no one, who is looking to improve America’s abysmal health care system and who has done even the most modest research holds the NHS up as an example to be imitated.

    In fact, it is the boogeyman trotted out by the anti-healthcare reform contingent for good reason. Of course despite that, they have superior health outcomes to the US.

  4. Kathy says:

    I’m very sad Benito did not get his preferred treatment. It’s very unfair, many people say that.

    Therefore, I stand ready, in case of reinfection, to administer two units of bleach under intense full body UV radiation, enhanced with carbolic acid and hydrogen peroxide in a 10% solution, with an ivermectin chaser.

  5. SKI says:

    Completely agree. More to the point, the claim that Paxlovid isn’t widely available, particularly in the DC region, is just wrong. Yesterday’s update to our medical staff stated:

    Treatment of high-risk outpatients with mild to moderate COVID-19

    Paxlovid: The oral antiviral combination Nirmatrelvir/Ritonavir (PAXLOVID) is available under FDA EUA at select pharmacies for treating high-risk outpatients with mild to moderate COVID. It is active against all variants and subvariants to date. Please refer to this guidance for criteria, details, and relevant links regarding potentially serious drug interactions. Paxlovid is now widely available at pharmacies and can be located through this website: https://healthdata.gov/Health/COVID-19-Public-Therapeutic-Locator/rxn6-qnx8/data.

    Bebletovimab: This therapeutic monoclonal antibody is available at [redacted] in limited quantity. It is active against Omicron BA.2 and authorized for high-risk patients with mild to moderate COVID who meet the criteria outlined in these guidelines.

    Though, to be fair, the Guidance (that I’m not linking to) states to “Reserve treatment for non-hospitalized symptomatic patients ≥ 12 years-old and ≥ 40 kg with a positive SARS-CoV-2 viral test (PCR or rapid antigen test) who are within 5 days of symptom onset and have underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of progressing to severe COVID-19.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    When former President Trump came down with COVID, he was helicoptered to Walter Reed and given experimental treatments. These options were, to say the least, not available to the ordinary American. Yet, even though he was an absolutely horrible President and I’d have very much preferred to have Mike Pence in charge instead, it never occurred to me that we shouldn’t have pulled out all the stops to save him. Because he was the President of the United States.

    This is exactly right.
    My only problem with that episode is that he then used his recovery to portray the virus as no big deal. And, as is well documented in several studies, his cavalier approach to the pandemic killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, needlessly.
    Of course Politico, which has turned into a right-wing rag, failed to mention any of that in their criticism of Harris.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: And yet, ask any Brit if they would like to trade the NHS for American medical system, and you know what their answer is.

  8. Jen says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: The care my husband’s UK-based family and friends receive–without it bankrupting them–is remarkable. Yes, they sometimes wait for necessary treatment, but they do eventually get it and it doesn’t ruin their finances.

    Last year, I was told on September 2 to have a spot on the back of my eyeball checked, as my eye doc said it was potentially an ocular melanoma, a very rare but pretty serious cancer. I called the ophthalmologist, and the EARLIEST I could get in was end of December. Which I did, and it appears to be just an abnormal spot on the back of my eyeball. For this, I paid around $700 out of pocket, with insurance. So yeah, we wait around for care as well, with sh!ttier outcomes.

    On the topic at hand: This is a very dumb thing for people to be kvetching about. Very, very dumb.

  9. Michael Cain says:

    If one wants to revolutionize US health care (and financing for it in particular), simply require providers to accept Medicare, Medicaid, and any insurance plan as good as those available on the state or federal exchanges. A few years ago when my wife and I had to change insurance, there was no single exchange policy accepted by all three of her GP and two specialists.

  10. JKB says:

    One does wonder is she might get one of the newly developed in 2021 UVA treatments to reduce viral load. One would hope, but I doubt they would release or the Democrat-aligned media would report it after their “drink bleach” hoax spread after President Trump mentioned the research.

    But to view it alternatively, we can likely be certain that the presidents son got the best medical care in America 98 years ago, but died from an infection quickly dealt with today in the most freely available health care interventions not only in the US, but the world.

    Calvin Jr. died at age 16 from blood poisoning. On June 30, 1924 Calvin Jr. had played tennis with his brother on the White House tennis courts without putting on socks and developed a blister on one of his toes. The blister subsequently degenerated into sepsis and Calvin Jr. died a little over a week later.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Yet, even though he was an absolutely horrible President and I’d have very much preferred to have Mike Pence in charge instead, it never occurred to me that we shouldn’t have pulled out all the stops to save him. Because he was the President of the United States.

    You’re a better person than I am. My thought was “this may be our one shot, and we’re gonna blow it.” (Luddite can confirm that I said this, IIRC.)

  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: Again with the hundred-year-old anecdotes used as evidence? What was your point? That even people who “get the best treatment” die? We already know this.

    (And do you have a source on that UVA treatment thing–other than Carlson and the scrotisserie?)

  13. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Not to mention the entire concern about limited availability and delays in getting it is “old news.” There are articles out there about how widespread it is and hardly anyone is using it *because they don’t know about it*. I tested positive for Covid 7 days ago. Very mild symptoms. I am high risk (diabetes). I called my doctor to let him know and asked about Paxlovid. He prescribed it and I picked it up from a pharmacy within 2 hours of testing positive.

    Works REALLY well too. I was feeling fine within a few hours of taking the first pills (it’s 3 pills twice a day for five days). My poor wife is not high risk and had tested positive a few days prior to me. We did not think to ask her doctor if she could get Paxlovid, and she is still feeling off. Again, mild symptoms, but…At this point I’m telling everyone if you test positive, tell your doctor and ask about it. Even if you aren’t high risk the supply is out there.

    I can’t post a link without the post getting eaten but if you Google “Paxlovid availability” one of the top results is an article titled: “There’s Finally an Ample Supply of Paxlovid. So Why Aren’t More People Taking the COVID Antiviral Pill?”

  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: You have more patience than I do. This particular trumper occasionally posts something coherent so I skim his posts, or at least the first in a series. Got enough to get the impression that he was supporting bleach drinking and stopped.

  15. Gustopher says:

    I hope the right wing goes crazy about this and starts demanding actual effective medicine rather than bullshit quack “cures”. Lots of lives could be saved.

  16. Kathy says:


    If @CSK or other habitual sewer diver goes sewer diving soon, I’d be willing to bet they’d find an amount of giddy anticipation among the deplorables, to the effect that Harris will die because she’s not getting ivermectin.

    I’m also willing to be that if Harris recovers, they’ll say she was given ivermectin and not Biden’s Poison Pills, but the Deep State is trying to hide it.

  17. just nutha says:

    @MarkedMan: Patience played no role. I’d just posted, so I had the “I’m doing this for the lurkers” excuse available and the inclination to rant. Also, I’ve been looking for an excuse to write “scrotisserie.” 😛

  18. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    There was a small five patient trial last year that involved shining ultraviolet A in the trachea of infected, critical care patients. I forget any details or outcomes. I think it was for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.

    In any case, a study with five patients doesn’t tell anyone much, past the fact there was no tracheal sunburn. The fact that there were no follow up studies that made the news, if any were attempted at all, tells me there was no there there.

    All sorts of unlikely treatments sometimes work or confer some benefit, so it’s worth trying such things. More often these unlikely treatments do little or nothing, and some prove to be harmful. So it’s worth being cautious.

  19. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Jen: Ocular melanoma is damned serious. The young wife of a distant cousin battled it for 5 years before succumbing. I’ve never asked her family how much their out-of-pocket cost was, but I know it was well into five figures.