So asks Paul Krugman. I think it might be, but I hope not, since that means things have become very bad.
Unlike Krugman, I don’t think it will be a referendum on COVID vaccination (Democrats would be ok if it were). What I worry about is that it will be a de facto referendum on long COVID, or, more accurately, a referendum on the Biden administration’s failure to prevent many people from getting it. If I’m correct, and my estimate of one to two percent of vaccinated and boosted people will contract debilitating long COVID even though they did what they were supposed to do, that’s going to be a bombshell. Even if many of those long COVID cases eventually resolve (or become much more manageable), the economic effects on households* can be devastating in a country that doesn’t mandate any sick leave (ask rail workers what they think about that).
Worse, if the immunity theft hypothesis is correct**, and a previous COVID infection weakens the immune system (even if that decline ultimately reverses after many months), we’re going to keep having these economic and personal disruptions we’re seeing now, with a lot of sick kids (and, of course, adults). Sick kids, by the way, includes both kids who have to be hospitalized and just those who have to miss school because they are mildly or moderately sick. Not only does the latter inconvenience parents (and we learned just how much upper-middle class parents love staying home with their kids), but it disrupts student learning (remember that?).
The weird thing in our political system is that COVID appears to have been a political wash, in part because there has been a de facto agreement that Every Thing Is Normal Now. But if long COVID does blow up, there also will be political effects–and no one should underestimate Republicans’ ability to ignore their own hypocrisy on this and make it a salient political issue, especially as it would inconvenience a lot of suburban voters.
Again, this is one of those ‘dark horse’ predictions that I hope is very wrong and that in a year or two I look back and realize it didn’t come to pass. I just hope someone more clever than I am is thinking about this contingency.
*While there have been quite a few articles about the costs to business (fewer workers leading to higher wages), oddly enough, there have been far fewer articles about the economic devastation households face when they lose a wage-earner for months.
**As I describe in this post, I’m not fully committed to immunity theft. I think there are other explanations for surges in influenza, and it might have a limited effect on the surge in RSV cases. What I can’t get out of my mind, however, is that it appears, though the data aren’t great, that the child hospitalization rate per case of RSV has risen dramatically, especially in Canada, where their kids were hit hard by COVID only several months before the fall surge. There’s also some very unusual influenza hospitalization data too, as well as data from Denmark that is disturbing.