Author: Patrick Lee

Taking Aim at the Threat of Bioweapons

It is an unfortunate enough reality that the world is concerned about the threat of naturally occurring biological hazards, but now there is a real fear that terrible biological weapons may make a reappearance. While many may consider the Covid-19 pandemic to be a “once in a lifetime” tragedy, there is reasonable concern that a lack of preparedness may give rise to another pandemic sooner than we may think. Although, we may not have time to focus on preventing another naturally occurring biological disaster because there is a serious concern that Russia may employ biological weapons in their invasion of Ukraine.

A biological weapon specifically involves using a living organism to inflict harm on others. The classic example would be depictions of Roman or Mongol armies throwing dead animals in an enemy’s water supply to ensure that disease would spread through the ranks. Since the Classical age, humans have only grown uncomfortably more efficient in all aspects of warfare and biological weapons have undergone terrifying advancement. Since 2008, more than 20 countrieshave maintained a biological weapons department and the former Soviet Union extensively researched the subject.

In October of 2021, NATO acknowledged the possibility of another devastating pandemic then began to ring the alarm bells that certain countries have the capability and motive to unleash devastating biological weapons that many would be unprepared to counter. Barely a month later, and likely in response to the then escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine, the Biden administration formally voiced their concern about the proliferation and potential use of biological weapons. The administration agreed with NATO that there needs to be a united global stance against the development of biological weapons and thorough cooperative strategies to prevent the threat of another pandemic. Thankfully, there are indications that Congress is willing to support President Biden in this area.

Republican Senator, James Risch, introduced bill 2912 last year that directly addresses the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic and the actions the United States must take to prevent another natural, or weaponized, biological disaster. The bill calls on the government to make assessments of foreign countries, specifically Russia and China, and potentially ban all cooperative research funding if those countries are found to not be compliant with the Biological Weapons Convention. Additionally, the bill would call upon the United States to actively use its leverage within the United Nations to condemn the offending countries and prevent them from seeking any position of power within the sphere of global health.

The threat of these weapons cannot be understated. Even Russia is spreading obvious misinformation that their justification for invading Ukraine was because of alleged bio-labs within the now besieged nation. As the conflict in Ukraine continues, the likelihood of Russia resorting to utilizing biological weapons among its many other war crimesonly increases. Congress has shown initiative in recognizing that the United States needs to be proactive in its defense against biological hazards, so there is hope that the often-divided institution will come together to condemn any use of such a weapon and react accordingly. 

Has Covid Disheartened our Healthcare Heroes to the Point of No Return?

A recent, and well deserved, trend in media outlets is congratulating and thanking health care workers for being heroes in the unprecedented crisis of Covid-19. While the Delta variant and battles over vaccine mandates still rage, there are many taking a cautious sigh of relief that the end is in sight for our healthcare struggles. Unfortunately, Covid-19 may have exacerbated an existing issue within the healthcare industry that will lead to a new crisis in the near future: healthcare worker shortage.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has been sounding the alarm for years that the rate of job growth in the healthcare industry, especially in the area of registered nurses, is not sufficient for rising healthcare needs. In 2017, more than 50% of registered nurses were over the age of 50, and it is projected that 200,000 new nurses will be needed every year to meet healthcare needs and to recoup staffing losses from retiring nurses. The dark shadow hanging over the head of the healthcare industry is the rapidly approaching retirement of the Baby Boomers. The largest generation in America’s history is entering their twilight years and want to retire. As of September 2020, 40% of all Baby Boomers have entered retirement. Not only is the healthcare industry losing millions of workers to retirement, as is evident by the disproportionately older demographics in the nursing field, but the Boomers themselves will be a severe stress on our nation’s healthcare. Baby Boomers live longer and are likely to suffer from high rates of obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. The healthcare industry’s labor shortage was already a fire beginning to grow, but the pandemic has done more than fuel the flames.

Covid-19 has intensified the terrible problem of burnout in the healthcare field. Many of the Healthcare Heroes that we adore for their selfless service are considering getting out of the field altogether. Over half of healthcare workers, which includes the nursing assistants found in retirement homes, have reported burnout from work. The stresses of working in unprecedented conditions have taken their toll on our severely needed healthcare professionals. Additionally, the push against Covid vaccines has led to many workers feeling betrayed by the people they painstakingly served. Many have become disillusioned with the profession and are considering switching careers. The poor disposition of current healthcare workers must serve as a deterrent for those who are desperately needed to join the field. The inevitability of Baby Boomers entering retirement and stressing the system was already not being alleviated by projected employment increases and who knows how badly the effects of burnout will worsen the situation. This loss of faith in the system comes at the worst possible time, as the already existing labor shortage was not being treated.

Thankfully, the Federal government seems to be aware of the present danger that a healthcare worker shortage presents. Before the American Rescue Plan Act was passed, Congress modified it to direct more funds to the public healthcare system. Specifically, the act sent over nine billion dollars towards workforce related support, which will primarily assist in hiring new staff with proper equipment. Some members of Congress are trying to further assist current healthcare workers, such as Representative Maloney with her reintroduction of the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act. This act would reward the service of healthcare workers by forgiving their student loans; however, Congress seems hesitant to pass additional costly legislation after the difficulty they had with the American Rescue Plan Act.

The importance of healthcare workers is undeniable, and they certainly deserve the title of “heroes” for their service. A large debt is certainly owed to the professionals that pulled us through the worst of the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan will hopefully address the worker shortage, and it might be a sign that society at large is acknowledging the plight of our vital healthcare heroes.