Biden pledges vaccines for all by August
With new daily cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. falling to their lowest level since October and the pace of vaccinations accelerating, President Biden this week sought to temper expectations about the pandemic’s end by saying that coronavirus shots should be available for all adults by late July—and a return to normal life possible by Christmas. The vaccination rate climbed 11 percent this week, to nearly 1.7 million shots a day, and 13.5 million doses were distributed to states, up 57 percent since January. By the end of the year, Biden told a CNN town hall, “significantly fewer” Americans may need to socially distance or wear masks, though he added, “I don’t want to over-promise anything.” Just days earlier, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, had walked back his recent projection that vaccines would be widely available to the general public by late April. That timeline had been based on Johnson & Johnson shipping 30 million doses of its vaccine in the next two months, if the shot receives FDA authorization in the coming weeks. Production delays mean fewer than 20 million J&J doses will likely go out by late April.
The Centers for Disease Control urged states to reopen K-12 schools as soon as possible, and issued new guidelines for getting children back into classrooms safely. But according to those guidelines, 89 percent of U.S. children currently live in “red zone” counties, defined by the CDC as having a test-positivity rate of 10 percent in the last seven days and where the agency says in-person learning should be limited. Scientists continue to warn that the more contagious U.K. and South African Covid variants could soon send U.S. cases skyrocketing; a new study has identified seven variants that originated in America. It’s not yet known whether those strains are more infectious.
What the columnists said
Covid cases are dropping far faster than health experts had expected, said Derek Thompson in TheAtlantic.com. Daily new cases are now below 100,000, and hospitalizations have dropped 50 percent in a month. “What’s behind the change?” It’s largely because the post-holidays surge scared many Americans into wearing masks and hunkering down. But the virus is also finding “fewer welcoming hosts.” An estimated “25 percent of adults have Covid-19 antibodies from a previous infection,” and 40 million Americans have received at least one vaccine shot. “We’re adding about 10 million people to this ‘protected’ population every week,” so half of U.S. adults should have some protection by spring. Even with cases declining, we can’t rush students back into classrooms, said Dr. Leana Wen in WashingtonPost.com. The CDC lays out sensible safety measures—“masking, distancing, handwashing”—but its guidelines don’t mandate 6 feet of physical distancing nor do they require teachers to be vaccinated. Are the guidelines “based on the best available science,” or political “expediency”?
Something’s wrong with the vaccine data, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. This week there appeared to be “anywhere from 15.4 million to 17.2 million doses either in transit or sitting on shelves somewhere.” Bad weather caused delays, and some vials are being held back for second shots, but that doesn’t fully account for the problem. Many states are simply “unable or unwilling to share how many doses they receive from manufacturers each week.” With 488,000 Americans already dead of Covid, we can’t afford to have lifesaving vaccines stuck in the supply chain.
“The U.S. vaccine rollout, for all its faults, is ahead of almost every other country’s,” said Noah Smith in NoahPinion.Substack.com. Among nations with large populations, only the U.K. is doing better in terms of doses administered as a percentage of population. And U.S. manufacturers are also rolling out vaccines faster than their foreign peers, a process Biden is speeding up through his use of the Defense Production Act to boost supplies.
We might “never reach herd immunity” against the always evolving Covid-19, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com, but that doesn’t mean this crisis will go on forever. The vaccines are incredibly effective at preventing serious illness and death, and at least Pfizer’s shot appears to work against all known variants. Perhaps we will need booster shots every few years to protect us against new strains. But it is well within our power to turn Covid from a deadly disease to something no more troublesome than “an endemic common cold.” ■