President Biden inherited a disaster, and we’re not even referring to the pandemic that’s killed 400,000 Americans and is on track to kill 100,000 more by mid-February. No, this is about the vaccine rollout.
Almost 20 million doses are sitting unused in America, while you desperately scramble to sign up your grandpa, to no avail. The pace has been much too slow. Last week, the U.S. used roughly 900,000 doses a day. Even if we upped that to 1 million a day, the virus wouldn’t be contained until sometime in 2022.
And every day that passes, thousands more lives will be lost – people who would still be alive if this rollout were actually on schedule.
What Biden is pledging to do now is what should have been done by his predecessor, months ago: Make this a federal priority. A vaccine won’t do any good if it doesn’t get into people’s arms, which requires a huge government undertaking. “We’ve blown every other opportunity,” Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at the Baylor College of Medicine, recently lamented to Politico. “This is all we have left.”
Here are the top three things we hope to see from the new president, all of which are painfully obvious.
First, have someone, a team, responsible for rolling this out. Yes, it is that basic. “Right now, I literally don’t know who to talk to in the Trump administration. Everywhere I turn to, they’re like, it’s someone else,” Rep. Andy Kim, who serves on the House select committee on coronavirus, told us earlier this month. “The White House COVID task force they kept touting, that was just in name only. There was no day-to-day operations.”
This is where the Trump administration punted to the states, much like it did on testing. Amid the chaos, many weren’t giving out the shots delivered to them. Which is why Biden is now recruiting top professionals, known for their logistical chops, to serve on his pandemic response team.
Second, we need to do everything we can with the Defense Production Act, to ramp up manufacturing. We need ultra-cold storage units for vaccines, and efficient syringes that can extract an extra dose from Pfizer’s vial. We’re limited now by what hospitals and facilities can manage.
Third, we need assurances that the feds have purchased enough doses, and that the calendar of weekly shipments is communicated accurately to states. When Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli doesn’t know how many doses we’re going to get until the day they arrive, people can’t reliably book appointments.
“It’s not clear how many doses are actually on hand right now; how many the manufacturer has provided to the feds, how many are coming in a month, and what is the schedule,” says Jennifer Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “That information hasn’t been made public. It hasn’t been provided to states.”
Biden needs to look into buying more doses, too, and other ways to speed this up. Still, it’s a relief to see a robust role for the federal government, given what we’ve seen when it has been too slow to act, or done nothing at all.
“I remember in the early days, with my head in my hands, just trying to wrap my head around the fact that we couldn’t get masks,” says Dr. Corey Basch, chair of William Paterson’s public health department. “In this country of abundance, it blew my mind.”
So did the lack of clear messaging on masking. Even today, about half of Americans don’t wear masks while socializing, a new survey by the University of Southern California finds. “We’ll look back on this, I think, in disbelief,” Basch says.
The question now isn’t whether Biden can do better. It’s, how many Americans would be alive today, if we had done all of this from the get-go?
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