For 11 months, Donald Trump has been deliberately downplaying the threat represented by the novel coronavirus while just as deliberately allowing COVID-19 to spread. Through that same period, Trump has been insisting that when it came to distributing vaccine, Americans were going to see a wonder. “Our military is now being mobilized,” said Trump. “So at the end of the year, we’re going to be able to give it to a lot of people very, very rapidly.” That statement came one day before whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright testified in a House hearing that Trump was putting cronyism ahead of science, ignoring the advice of experts, and was operating from politics rather than science. Bright testified that Trump actually had no coherent plan for vaccine distribution, and this was one of the failures that could make 2020 "the darkest winter in modern history."
Winter is here. So are the vaccines. But the complaints about distribution are getting louder by the day. The current rate of vaccination is so low that it would take a decade to vaccinate even 80% of the populace. Operation Warp Speed has turned out to be slower than delivery by dog team, and the general in charge has admitted personal failure when it comes to getting vaccine where it’s needed. So what is Trump going to do about it? He’s addressing it the same way he does every problem: by blaming everyone else.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that all the vaccine has been handed over to states, so … not his problem. Shockingly, this isn’t the case. According to federal figures, states have received about 11.4 million doses. But this is just over half of what states were expecting at this point. How much vaccine remains under federal control is not clear. What is clear is that less than 20% of the doses supposedly distributed have made it into American arms.
Meanwhile, Republican-controlled states like Texas and Florida are doing what Republican-controlled states do: ignoring guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As The Washington Post reports, these states have bypassed front-line workers when it comes to providing vaccines and given first priority to the elderly. This fits absolutely with the mythology that Republicans have been repeating through the whole pandemic that COVID-19 is only a threat to those over 75. It also fits absolutely with how Republicans have continually ignored and demeaned the front-line workers who have saved millions of lives over the last nine months. Denying the vaccine to people who are guaranteed to be exposed to COVID-19 every day may not be criminal, but it’s certainly irresponsible. And it’s a slap in the face to every nurse, doctor, and hospital staffer.
Far from bringing a D-Day invasion of vaccine, what Trump’s “military” deployment has rendered is something closer to his handling of Syria: slow, ineffective, and leaving a lot of critical people behind. It’s become absolutely clear that any effective distribution of vaccine will be handled by Joe Biden. On Tuesday, Biden addressed the nation on vaccine issues. And as The New York Times reports, the president-elect was blunt in his assessment. Biden made it clear that if the nation continued to follow Trump’s plan, it would take “years, not months,” to reach a protective level of vaccination. But where Trump had done little more than pay lip service to the idea of delivering vaccine, Biden promised to “move heaven and earth” to get the job done.
With deaths from COVID-19 already approaching 350,000 and hospitals overflowing to the point that patients are being placed inside gift shops and ambulances are being turned away, Biden will be inheriting the largest disaster in the nation’s history. On Tuesday, he vowed to deliver 100 million doses of vaccine within his first 100 days, which would be a pace roughly 10 times that seen since vaccines began being delivered in mid-December. Unfortunately, even that pace would be insufficient to vaccinate the necessary number of Americans by the end of 2021. To reach “herd immunity” by summer will take a pace closer to 3 million vaccinations a day.
That may sound like a lot, but it’s far from impossible. About half of Americans get a flu shot each year, almost all of them coming in the fall. That’s already a pace well above a million shots a day. There are already enough locations to deliver the vaccinations and enough staff to deliver them. The real bottlenecks are simply getting vaccines out to the public, along with consistent guidelines and planning. In other words, all the logistics that Trump promised but failed to deliver.
In his speech, Biden promised that America could “return to normalcy in the next year.” But not without a price. Biden also warned that right now, with surge upon surge and hospitals overflowing, we’re at the brink of “the toughest” time during the whole pandemic.
“I know it’s hard to hear,” said Biden, “but it’s the truth.” That’s certainly something Americans haven’t been hearing for the last four years.