In the main stream media's search for positives in the first six months of Bidenism - among the immigration fiasco, skyrocketing crime, recurring cybersecurity attacks, increasing inflation, and a hopeless legislative agenda - many latched onto a narrative about President Biden's successful coronavirus response:
- CNN, April 26: "How the US went from having one of the worst Covid responses to being a global leader in vaccinations under Biden";
- USA Today, April 29: "Joe Biden's First 100 days: Covid vaccinatioin rate a heroic accomplishment";
- Washington Post, July 2: "Biden and Covid Vaccinations: Inside the Successes";
- Bloomberg, July 4: "Biden Declares Success in Beating Pandemic in July 4 Speech".
Let's pull on some threads of this false narrative promulgated by VP Harris that Trump left the cupboard bare, and that Joe has righted the ship.
1. The data: When President Trump left office, thanks to Operation Wharp Speed about 1,000,000 vacinations were being given per day. The rate peaked in April at about 3.4 million, but has since receded to about 500,000. As of July 20, 56.8% of the total population over 12 years old was fully vacinated, and 49.2% had received at least one jab. (67% of those over 18 had at least one shot, short of Biden's goal of 70%.)
As of July 21, there were 41,310 active cases in the United States (+171 % in two weeks), 26,302 hospitalizations (+49%), and 249 deaths (+42%). Some 97% of the hospitalizations and 99.5% of the deaths were not vaccinated. While there is a small percentage of headline grabbing infection among vaccinated people, the impact of vaccination is overwhelmingly positive.
2. The technology. When President Trump left office we had conditional "Emergency Use Authorization" for Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna vaccines, with all three maximizing production ramp-ups. AstraZeneca (used globally) and Novavax had developed vaccines, but not submitted them for FDA approval. That is where we stand six months into Biden's term.
Notably, the New York Times has started to question why the FDA is still operating under Emergency Use Authorizations rather than full approvals, quoting several experts who believe that the lack of full approval inhibits public acceptance. While it is not the NYT intent, the criticism inadvertently points out the accomplishment of Operation Warp Speed in overcoming the hyper-caution of FDA bureaucrats.
3. The Messaging. It would be hard for the administratoin to be more muddled in getting out the simple message that the vaccines are safe and that everybody without severe medical problems should be getting vaccinated to protect themselves from serious illness, and to protect their family, friends, and neighbors.
Some obvious causes of resistance should be eliminated:
- Dr. Fauci has outlived his helpfulness. His misleading denial about his agency funding research at the Wuhan Lab and the original political refusal to consider the likelihood of origin in the lab causes resistance among Trump supporters. His flip flopping on the wearing of masks (none, then one, then two) shows an intent to maneuver his audience rather than to speak about facts. He has become a negative focal point.
- Concerns about the safety of vaccines would be helped by full FDA approval, rather than the positioning that more data is needed to confirm that risks are de minimis. Full approval would be particularly helpful for school leaders who are trying to set policies for the fall semester, and for other government and business leaders who are trying to determine how much pressure to apply in managing employees and customers.
- There is much too much discussion about the few in a million instances of blood clots, nerve affecting Guillane-Barre syndrome, inflation of the heart muscle, or anaphylaxis. It is hard for most people to judge relative probabilities - significant for serious Covid problems; almost non-existent for serious side-effects of vaccination.
- Consistent visible behavior is essential. VP Harris brushing off the implications of meeting with the non-compliant Covid-infected Texas Democrats feels much like Gavin Newsom's French Laundry outing of February.
As was recommended by some back in December, the Biden team has needed a central communication strategy to match a distribution strategy. What we have had is Biden claiming that Facebook is killing people by not adequately censoring content and criticism of Fox News hosts for not promoting vaccination. What we need is a team which includes libertarians and conservatives promulgating a simple message that vaccines are safe and essential for protection of individuals, their friends, and their families.
4. Global leadership. Globally, about 13% of the world's population has been fully vaccinated, with much of the undeveloped world under 1%. About 8,000 people are reported to be dying daily, at the low end of a pattern which has been fairly stable since October, and which has resulted in a total of over 4,100,000 counted fatalities. There are almost 200 million confirmed cases in 220 countries with many undercounted.
Beyond humanitarian considerations, we will not be safe from recurring waves and dangerous mutations until the world is safe. Vaccine diplomacy - with our superior vaccines - provides and opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of being a close ally to the United States.
Like other areas where people ask who is steering the administration's ship, the international dimension of the Covid reaction has been chaotic: an early proposal to void the patents of US vaccine manufacturers; a months-long delay in releasing to the world a stock of 60 million AstraZeneca doses which were not approved for use in the United States; remaining closure of borders with Canada and Mexico (except for illegal immigrants). Despite commitments at the recent G7 meeting for the world's richest countries to send 870 million doses to poorer countries, actual American deliveries are small and uncertain - a recently-announced 25 million doses for 49 African countries; 2.5 million doses to Taiwan; 3 million doses to the Philippines; and a much mocked 80 vials to Trinidad and Tobago.
Covid 19 was largely responsible for the defeat of President Trump in 2020. Unfortunately, President Biden is proving to be unable to expand upon Operation Wharp Speed to win the race between vaccinations and virus mutations which may eventually include a version which is resistant and more lethal. This is not theoretical. Strong, comprehensive leadership is needed, and is not being provided.
bill bowen - 7/22/2021