COVID-19 has been mishandled by the Trump administration at every single turn. From maligning the science to downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic and essentially giving up on even trying to control the spread, the last year has been a masterclass in what not to do as a world leader in the midst of a global pandemic. Given this history, it should come as a shock to no one that the administration has also bungled vaccine distribution.
The missteps started early on, when the Trump administration failed to seal the deal on receiving an extra hundred million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer. Unlike the European Union, which secured 200 million doses of the vaccine after the United States faltered in their own deal, the U.S. has thus far distributed only 13.1 million doses—total. And only 9 million of those vaccines have been given thus far.
This is obviously nowhere near the government’s initial goal of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020. As of January 8th, only 151,000 Americans had been fully vaccinated.
At this point in his tenure, no one can expect Trump to step up and assume responsibility for improving the vaccine distribution crisis. With just a few days left as president, it seems he is content to ignore COVID-19 and instead spend his days fuming about being kicked off Twitter and not being able to steal an election he legally lost.
In other words: the Trump administration is currently (and let’s be honest, has always been) feckless.
Like so many things, that means it will be on Biden to come in and clean up Trump’s mess. And when it comes to vaccine distribution, he is going to need to start that work ASAFP after his January 20th inauguration (or Indoguaration, if you’re Major Biden).
According to The Washington Post, this is going to call for the Biden Administration beginning a 24/7, all-hands-on-deck operation the moment they walk in the door. This should involve the federal government setting distribution goals for states, allocating resources to help states meet those goals when necessary, and maintaining open lines of communication between states and the federal government to ensure all goals are met.
The Biden administration will also need to outline best practices for states to follow, providing guidance where no such guidance has been given up to this point.
In turn, local health departments will need to be given the opportunity to communicate to the federal government what they may need in order to be successful, counting on the federal government to respond promptly and with the intent to help—something that has been sorely lacking from the Trump administration.
Do local governments need help with testing? With vaccine distribution to medical facilities? With actually administering the vaccinations on a mass scale? With PR campaigns to help answer questions and concerns average citizens may have about receiving the vaccine themselves?
The Biden administration needs to be ready and willing to step up in each of those cases.
Perhaps most importantly, Biden is going to need to remind the county what presidential communication actually looks like, speaking directly to the people about where we are with vaccine distribution, what he is doing to improve those numbers, and what they can (and should) be doing to help protect their fellow Americans.
We are just weeks away from the anniversary of the first reported COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
In the year since, more than 375,000 Americans have lost their lives to the pandemic. Many of those lives could have been saved with better leadership from the top. In fact, the United States has had one of the worst responses among industrialized nations to COVID-19 thus far, boasting one of the highest death rates per capita. Our poor COVID-19 response has allowed the disease to become one of the leading causes of death in this country.
And it’s time for that to change.
The Biden administration has already outlined a detailed plan for how they intend to attack vaccine distribution and reduce COVID-19 numbers throughout the country. Instead of displacing blame and responsibility, as the Trump administration seems intent on doing, Biden and his team have promised to make this a top priority in the early days of Biden’s presidency—starting with releasing nearly all available doses to speed up vaccination opportunities.
Certain states are already widening residents’ access to the vaccines; per the New York Times, at least 28 states have begun vaccinating the elderly. Moreover, the Times reports, “At least 32 states have expanded their vaccination programs to include critical workers, such as police officers, teachers, grocery store employees and other people at risk of being exposed to the virus on the job.” And another dozen states are poised to follow suit.
However, despite the Trump administration implying that there was a stockpile of second doses awaiting shipping, that seems to be misleading – the reserve was among the doses already being shipped. “Now, health officials across the country who had anticipated their extremely limited vaccine supply as much as doubling beginning next week are confronting the reality that their allocations will remain largely flat, dashing hopes of dramatically expanding access for millions of elderly people and those with high-risk medical conditions,” says The Washington Post.
Biden has chosen former FDA commissioner Dr. David Kessler to help lead the distribution of the vaccine, and has said that he intends to set up vaccination sites in high school gyms and convention centers, and dispatch mobile units to ensure that high-risk populations are reached.
In the days leading up to his presidency, Biden has proven a far greater willingness than his predecessor to attack the pandemic from all sides. We can only hope he remains consistent with those goals, and that Operation Warp Speed is able to finally move forward under the guidance of a real leader.
When it comes to containing COVID-19 and saving as many lives as possible, Biden’s presidency cannot start soon enough.
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