Vaccination to begin, but the wait will be long

Vaccination to begin, but the wait will be long

 Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine was poised for federal emergency approval this week, signaling that the beginning of the end of the pandemic is at hand even as the nation reeled under record infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. The first Americans could receive vaccinations within days, and with Moderna’s vaccine up for approval next week, Operation Warp Speed officials said, doses for up to 20 million people would ship by year’s end. 

The Food and Drug Administration reported Tuesday that Pfizer’s vaccine is safe and provides strong protection for people of all ages and races, starting with the first dose. “This is a grand slam,” said Mayo Clinic researcher Gregory Poland. But a long and hard road looms, with many months ahead before most Americans are likely to get vaccinated, and no end in sight to a massive surge that’s hitting every state and killing more than 2,200 Americans daily. Federal officials promised every American would have access to a vaccine by June, but experts raised concerns about supply shortages. 

The Trump administration was on the defensive after it was revealed it had spurned an opportunity to buy an additional 100 million Pfizer doses, which are now under contract to other countries. Covid-19 surpassed heart disease as the nation’s leading cause of death, as new infections topped 200,000 a day for the first time and record numbers of patients—over 100,000 nationally— flooded hospitals. Many states broke records for new daily cases, and new restrictions were issued from North Carolina, where the governor imposed a curfew, to California, where much of the state was put on lockdown after daily case counts tripled in a month. Overwhelmed doctors pleaded with officials to issue stronger safety measures. “We’re drowning,” said Micah Luderer, a Missouri doctor who petitioned the governor for a mask mandate. President-elect Joe Biden named key members of his health team, tapping California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Health and Human Services secretary and Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He laid out a plan for tackling the pandemic in his first 100 days, saying he’d accelerate testing, ask all Americans to wear masks and mandate them in federal buildings, and get “at least 100 million Covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people.” 

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines appear to provide near-total protection, but will work only if people are willing to get them, said The Boston Globe. Facing “conspiracy theories, deep-seated distrust of government, and scientifically unfounded fear of immunizations,” the federal government “must go to extraordinary lengths” to reassure Americans. After all, “conspiracy theories can crystallize around a mote of dust.” “There is a light in the darkness,” said the Virginian-Pilot & Daily Press. But overcoming skepticism, fear, and ignorance about vaccines “will take civic and faith leaders, academics and journalists, business leaders and entertainers” acting as role models and getting vaccinated on camera. A massive public outreach campaign is required, said the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier. 

That’s especially true in the black community, where there are “good historical reasons to distrust authority.” In addition to public service ads from “prominent African- Americans,” we need “outreach to trusted figures in each black community.” “It’s time to scare people about Covid,” said Elisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times. When I was a kid, an anti-smoking ad with a woman gasping for air from a hole in her throat gave me nightmares—and “was supremely effective” in deterring me and others from smoking. Rather than the “profoundly dull” public service ads we’ve seen about wearing masks, we need “terrifying realism”: Covid patients in ICU beds, with a breathing tube from a ventilator in their mouths, or patients watching monitors as their oxygen saturation dips, their “eyes wide with fear.” Americans are already tired of heavy-handed government lecturing, said Isaac Schorr in NationalReview .com.

 They’ve “had their lives turned upside-down by the virus,” and resist restrictions not because they’re idiots but because they’ve been bludgeoned by “arbitrary regulations” handed down by imperious Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo, Gavin Newsom, and Gretchen Whitmer. A “scare tactic– laden public relations campaign” will just come off as “another sign of contempt.” “As winter descends” on a pandemicravaged nation, said Juliette Kayyem in, “life unfolds on a split screen.” On one side, “the picture is bleak”— on the other, “the pandemic is beginning to end.” In the months to come, “Americans may struggle to maintain their composure” as “the inevitable snafus happen,” the death toll mounts, and we wait patiently for our turn to roll up a sleeve. It will challenge us all, but we’ve now got cause for hope—far more than “most had reason to expect even a month ago.”