Biden: This vaccine rollout has been a dismal failure

This feels true, especially if you’re one of the many millions eager to get vaccinated. What’s taking so long?

And it is objectively true in some respects. As of this morning, more than 30 millions doses had been distributed across the country and just 12 million doses have been administered. Many, many people will die in the next month or two because supply couldn’t meet demand efficiently.

But then you look at a graph like this and have deja vu. As bad as things were in the U.S. when COVID descended on New York this past spring, they were worse per capita in some western European countries. Is our rollout a “dismal failure” because we’re incompetent or is it a dismal failure because western bureaucracies as a rule (Israel excluded!) just can’t move at the speed they need to move anymore?

I suppose Biden would say that it doesn’t matter how we’re doing relative to anyone else. Lives that could be saved will be lost if we don’t get better at this right now:

His plan to increase public access to the vaccine includes relaxing some of the priority guidance so that all senior citizens are eligible now and rolling out FEMA and the National Guard to set up 100 federal vaccination centers across the country. (If I’m not mistaken, the National Guard is preoccupied at the moment with a terrorist insurrection instigated by his predecessor.) All of which is nice, but things aren’t going to really change until the private sector is involved. And hopefully they will be soon:

Right now we’re doing around 800-900,000 shots a day, with one million per day doable according to Anthony Fauci. If we can get CVS rolling, we can double that number. But that would require making sure that CVS has a constant supply of the vaccine, which is another problem at the moment.

Biden calling the rollout a “dismal failure” isn’t just an I-feel-your-pain thing for voters, it’s an obvious attempt to pre-blame Trump for the hiccups Biden’s own team will inevitably encounter over the next few weeks. This WaPo story this morning is part of that effort too:

[A]s the coronavirus overwhelms U.S. hospitals and kills more than 3,300 people a day on average, the Trump administration has balked at providing access to information and failed to consult with its successors, including about distributing the vaccines that offer the greatest hope of emerging from the pandemic…

For more than a month, the Biden team pressed to attend meetings that offered “real-time information on production and distribution of vaccine” — important details for the president-elect’s advisers debating ways to bring the pandemic under control, said a transition official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private interactions.

While health agencies’ career staff have been helpful, it was not until this week that Biden officials were allowed to attend meetings of Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s initiative to accelerate vaccine development and distribution. They were also not invited to the two Warp Speed sessions this weekend when Trump officials decided on sweeping changes to try to speed up the sluggish vaccine rollout. Nor were they briefed on those changes in advance.

This scoop about Operation Warp Speed emerged this afternoon and conveniently also serves the argument that Trump, not Biden, is to blame for any slowfootedness in Team Joe’s vaccine ramp-up:

Operation Warp Speed leaders waited more than two months to approve a plan to distribute and administer Covid-19 vaccines proposed by U.S. health officials, administration officials said, leaving states with little time to implement a mass-vaccination campaign amid a coronavirus surge…

The CDC had wanted to start helping states plan in June how to get people vaccinated. But officials at Operation Warp Speed rebuffed the agency’s plan for distributing vaccines. They adopted a similar plan in August only after exploring other options—and then held the release of the CDC’s playbook for states for two weeks for additional clearance and to put it out with another document, the officials said.

Faulting Operation Warp Speed for the early chaos is also useful to state governments, which have spent lots of time grousing about not being given money sooner to build out a vaccination infrastructure but not much time explaining why they couldn’t carve out that money from their existing budgets. There’s no higher priority for state spending right now than getting vaccinations going, after all. And it bears reminding: Distributing the vaccine isn’t the problem at this stage, administering it is. Why couldn’t states have planned how to get doses out efficiently while the CDC and Operation Warp Speed were wrangling over distribution?

Whatever the answer, we’d better get our act together this instant. The new strain of the virus is circulating here and a massive spike is destined to happen if we don’t head it off with immunizations first. To put in perspective for you how serious the threat is, consider that the U.S. is currently recording over 4,000 deaths per day of COVID, the highest we’ve ever seen. At the moment, the UK, where the new strain is rampant, is recording between 1,200 and 1,500 deaths. Per capita, that works out to 6,000-7,500 deaths in a population the size of ours. As bad as it is, the pandemic can still get much, much worse.

I’ll leave you with Biden yelling about Republicans not wearing masks.