This plan merits, at least for me, a sense of fury: All of this should’ve been done months ago. These are the obvious ideas. We should be considering the hard, but perhaps necessary, decisions that could radically increase supply: using half-doses, for instance, or joining Britain in rapidly approving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, even though the vaccine’s clinical trial was marred by shaky study design. I’m of the view that the situation is bad enough, and the costs of waiting large enough, that it might be worth moving forward on both counts, even with imperfect information. But those are difficult calls, with real downside risk. That there is so much low-hanging operational fruit for the Biden administration to focus on instead is a tragedy. It means people who could’ve been saved by simple competence and foresight will die instead.
Even now, the Trump administration’s poor planning and inconsistent communication fog the effort. In recent days, there have been reports that states aren’t receiving the vaccine allotments they’ve been promised. Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon tweeted that the leaders of Operation Warp Speed had directly confirmed to her that “states will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses.” The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, said, “the national supply simply isn’t coming.” When I asked Zients whether the federal government had less vaccine supply than has been promised, he wasn’t able to give an answer. “We’ll conduct a full evaluation when we’re in our seats on supply, but it’s hard for me to say more than that right now, given the lack of information sharing from the Trump administration.”
The incoming administration is also free from the delusion that the vaccines will solve the coronavirus crisis on their own. Even on the most optimistic timetable, it will take until well into the summer for America to reach herd immunity. In the meantime, new variants of the virus that spread even faster are taking hold. Ron Klain, Biden’s choice for chief of staff, warned that the coronavirus death toll in America will pass 500,000 by the end of February. And it will not end there. That is why if you look at the incoming administration’s coronavirus rescue package, most of the money is dedicated to the policies that will let us survive this next year.
Of this, $20 billion is directed at the vaccination effort. Another $50 billion is dedicated to standing up the national testing infrastructure that we should’ve had long ago, with an emphasis on deploying rapid testing for asymptomatic individuals who work in high-risk settings and setting up genomic surveillance so we can see when and how the virus is mutating. Then there’s $130 billion intended to retrofit schools so they can operate safely, even with the virus in circulation.
A year into this crisis, America still hasn’t built a national contact tracing apparatus to track and suppress outbreaks: Biden’s plan calls for hiring more than 100,000 public health workers for national contact tracing, local vaccine outreach and more. Congregant settings, like nursing homes and prisons, have been the sites of particularly vicious outbreaks, and Biden wants to create specialized forces that can be rapidly deployed to such sites to save lives. The list goes on.
None of this — none of it — is interesting or surprising. It’s obvious, and it should’ve been done long ago. Back in May, I wrote that we were operating, in effect, without a president and without a national plan. It is January, and that remains true. But that will end on the day of Biden’s inauguration. And then the hard work can, finally, begin.