Joe Biden has promised to produce results for a country that, as he himself says, is at war. He surely had a lot of problems sitting on his desk when he finally arrived at a freshly-disinfected White House on January 20. He has certainly been signing executive orders at a record pace, many of them designed to undo the baleful work of his predecessor. The one thing he hasn’t done is fight that war he talked about—the one whose cost now approaches half a million lives.
I’m glad that we’ve rejoined the Paris Agreement, though I will be gladder when the climate accords finally start to mean something to our overheated, glacier-melting world. I’m glad that we’ve scuttled the Keystone oil pipeline, though I’ll be happier to see us renounce fossil fuels altogether. I’m glad that transgender soldiers will be able to fight our unending wars again, though I wish those wars would end.
But, really, there is only one war in front of us in the here and now. We’ve lost a year fighting it. We finally have some weapons, apart from cloth face coverings, to wage it. So, where are they?
Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” finally asked the question that more than 300 million of us are waiting for an answer to: “When should our patience run out?”
Todd was referring to the fact that five times as many people per capita have died in the United States from COVID-19 as elsewhere in the world, and continue to do so. He was referring to the fact that, two months into the approval of two vaccines with over 90 percent effectiveness (so far), we have inoculated barely one-tenth of our population. He also threw in the point that he hasn’t been able to get a shot for his own mother, and he is admittedly one of the better-connected people on the planet.
Of course, Joe Biden didn’t create this mess. He inherited it from King Chaos, after his four years of carnival misrule, capped by the butchery of his COVID-19 response. The question is where we go from here.
There are two steps in securing vaccinations: production and distribution. Production in the U.S. is currently controlled by the two pharmaceutical companies that have secured approval for their vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, and the affiliated units with which they have contracts. To use President Biden’s war analogy (which was also Donald Trump’s), this is equivalent to saying that planes, tanks and warships should be produced only by licensed factories, no matter what other facilities existed or could be converted to such use.
That’s not the way we fought World War II. Our current population is 331 million.
The Pfizer and Moderna doses both require two separate injections, spaced weeks apart. That’s 662 million doses to cover everyone, although some people can’t safely take the shots. Let’s say rather that we’re trying for herd immunity or coverage for 75 to 80 percent of the country. That would be half a billion doses. But some of those doses will inevitably be lost to spoilage, so we need to up the figure again. And the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is awaiting approval this month, with Astro-Zeneca’s version (already in use in Europe) somewhere on the horizon.
Which shot is best for you? And how well or long will it work against whatever mutations of COVID-19 emerge next? Well, we’re all guinea pigs now. As we know, Trump declined an offer from Pfizer to provide an additional 100 million doses of its vaccine last summer. Trump claimed that the government had 100 million doses in stock in December. His health czar, Alex Azar, said it was 40 million. The new Biden administration said it could provide no figures at all.
Supply of any kind, of course, is useless without distribution. Trump left this problem to the 50 state governors and other jurisdictions, with a scheme of algorithms that made everything worse. Local residents hardly need to be told how things have worked out in Philadelphia or in neighboring counties. In New York City, there were 50 vaccination sites—for a population of eight million. For the remainder of the state, there were a dozen sites to cover more than 40,000 square miles.
Of course, the distribution problem is less complicated if you have nothing to distribute. What, then, has Biden been doing, now more than a fifth of the way through his 100 days? He has not authorized, much less mandated, additional production facilities.
He promised the production of 100 million doses in his first 100 days, until it was pointed out to him that this rate was already being achieved. He then upped his goal to 150 million doses. Pfizer and Moderna alone say they can produce 200 million by the end of March, which would be on the 70th of Biden’s 100 days, and it is estimated that we could be actually administering two million shots a day by then. Mind you, we’ll each need two of these shots with currently approved vaccines, so that would mean a year before full vaccination is (in theory) available to everyone from these sources. President Biden has recently said that all Americans who want vaccinations will have them by the end of the summer. He has not said how.
Israel has already vaccinated its citizens. Biden has allocated $160 billion for the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in his $1.9 trillion disaster relief bill. With a reconciliation procedure in the House and Senate, Congress could have put this money in the pipeline two weeks ago. Instead, Biden insisted on a White House sitdown with 10 Republicans, who lowballed his bill to $618 billion, although they agreed to the requested funds for COVID-19. Belatedly, Democrats in Congress are acting on their own.
The COVID-19 money could have been separated out at once if Biden wanted Republican votes for it, unnecessary as they were. As of this writing, nothing of this appropriation has gone out for anything. This is more than absurd. It’s bizarre. Within a month or two, new and more contagious strains of COVID-19 will be making their impact felt wide, potentially weakening the effect of the vaccines we have. Nor is this merely a direct health issue. It is also an economic and educational one, as half of another K-12 school year goes to waste. The Chinese have their kids back in class.
The COVID-19 emergency is actually a worse crisis than World War II. When the Japanese attacked us, they put only two of our then-territories, Hawaii and the Philippines, directly in jeopardy, plus a few Pacific chains. The Japanese were never in a position to strike the continental United States at any time. Each day today, we are losing as many or more lives than were lost on Pearl Harbor Day, and they are being lost at home. Joe Biden, meanwhile, waits on bipartisanship from a caucus of Congressional Republicans, a majority of whom have yet to recognize his election as president. He has neither centralized nor rationalized vaccine production or distribution. Testing and masking remain haphazard. Hospital facilities and supplies are desperately vulnerable.
When should our patience run out?
Now would be a very good time.