A new strategy to fight the pandemic

A new strategy to fight the pandemic

With more than 400,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus and the national vaccine rollout sputtering, President Biden was racing this week to implement his new strategy to rein in the pandemic. Following his inauguration, Biden signed a flurry of executive actions that, among other things, will require masks to be worn on federal property and reverse the Trump administration’s effort to pull the U.S. out of the World Health Organization. Calling the 15.7 million Covid vaccines administered to date in the U.S. “a dismal failure,” Biden pledged to deliver 100 million doses in his first 100 days. As part of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief proposal to address Covid and the ailing economy, the president has asked Congress to allocate $20 billion for a national vaccination program that would establish mass vaccination centers in cities and mobile clinics in rural areas, and $50 billion to scale up diagnostic testing.

New White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Biden is “inheriting a huge mess” when it comes to vaccine distribution. Biden’s team was stunned by the Trump administration’s revelation last week that despite announcing that it would meet surging demand by releasing all doses being held in reserve, it had no such vaccine stockpile. Shortages of shots are now being reported across the U.S.: New York City canceled tens of thousands of inoculations this week because of a lack of supplies. While a post-holiday spike in cases appears to be leveling off—new cases in the U.S. fell 11 percent this week to about 201,000 a day—health officials warned that the rapid spread of a more contagious variant from the U.K. could again cause numbers to skyrocket. “Things will get worse before they get better,” said Biden.

“Biden’s good ideas must be executed with the urgency of a fire brigade responding to a house in flames,” said The Washington Post. The Trump administration sensibly bought hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine but then left the task of administering them to “overstretched and underfunded” states and localities. Biden’s plan would fix this massive error; the only question is whether Congress can act fast enough “to brake the out-of-control pandemic.”

More bureaucracy isn’t the answer, said NationalReview.com. The U.S. has distributed more than double the number of doses administered, and vials are sitting in freezers “not for lack of funding, but thanks to burdensome rules” about who is eligible and which doctors can administer shots. Some states are debating whether to give priority to at-risk employees, such as farm laborers and transit workers, but doing so would only create more “bureaucratic hurdles.” The best thing governors and the Biden administration can do is get out of the way.

The new administration should be careful about blaming Trump for all “the assorted failures” of the federal government’s pandemic response, said Yuval Levin, also in NationalReview.com. Some issues are deeply rooted, like the CDC making one “mind-boggling mistake after another,” from giving inconsistent advice about masks to failing to deploy effective testing early in the crisis. Still, Biden seems to recognize the constraints he’ll face based on his goal of 100 million shots by April 30—a target the U.S. is already on pace to hit.

“If we keep doing what we’re doing now to prevent infections,” said Julia Belluz in Vox.com, “we’re screwed.” The new U.K. variant, expected to be the dominant strain in the U.S. by March, might cause sick people to emit “particles laden with even more virus into the air.” Faced with a higher chance of infection, Americans should recalculate the risk of indoor activities, possibly even avoiding the supermarket and switching to curbside grocery pickup or delivery.

Among Biden’s biggest challenges in the coming months will be persuading enough Americans to roll up their sleeves and get a Covid shot, said Frank Luntz and Brian Castrucci in RealClear Politics .com. In a recent poll, 32 percent of Republicans ages 18 to 49 said they will “definitely not get vaccinated.” In Ohio, up to 60 percent of nursing-home workers offered a vaccine have refused to be inoculated. Lecturing these people about how getting a vaccine is “the right thing to do” simply won’t work. Instead, our leaders need to emphasize that these shots are the fastest road to “a return to normal,” something Americans of all stripes are desperate to achieve.