It seems as though Joe Biden has already picked up on Barack Obama’s most notable strategy — Blame My Predecessor. Facing a tough challenge that was only made possible in the first place by Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed program, the new administration needs to find ways to make vaccinations more efficient. For now, though, the only thing getting more efficient is the sleight-of-hand coming from unnamed officials griping to the media:
Newly sworn in President Joe Biden and his advisers are inheriting no coronavirus vaccine distribution plan to speak of from the Trump administration, sources tell CNN, posing a significant challenge for the new White House.
The Biden administration has promised to try to turn the Covid-19 pandemic around and drastically speed up the pace of vaccinating Americans against the virus. But in the immediate hours following Biden being sworn into office on Wednesday, sources with direct knowledge of the new administration’s Covid-related work told CNN one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under former President Donald Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.
“There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch,” one source said.
Another source described the moment that it became clear the Biden administration would have to essentially start from “square one” because there simply was no plan as: “Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence.”
At the moment, the nation is inoculating people at a rate of about 1 million per day, the same rate that Biden pledged to meet in his pledge to get 100 million people vaccinated in 100 days. As of yesterday, we have inoculated 16.5 million people (roughly 5% of the American populace) in the six weeks or so that the vaccines have become available, a pace of 2.75 million per week or 400,000 per day on an overall average, with the pace increasing logarithmically along the way. Those doses had to get into all of those arms somehow, so clearly the distribution plan was not “non-existent.”
Is the distribution “incompetent”? Again, these numbers would demonstrate that the answer is no. In fact, it looks like the Trump team gave the incoming administration a very good head start on what will be a long and frustrating project. The one issue that is worth debating is the level of government handling the delivery of vaccinations. Democrats probably would prefer the federal government handle it, while the Trump administration left that to the states and only handled the distribution of vaccines to those governors.
That might be what Biden’s team is calling a “non-existent” distribution plan, but that’s nonsense. The states are where the bottlenecks and inefficiencies exist. The bottlenecks choking off the rate of inoculations in the states would get exponentially worse if left to federal officials instead, who don’t have nearly enough reach or resources, let alone understanding of the communities involved.
But all of this misses a larger issue with both the Biden and Trump approaches. The biggest priority for effective vaccines in a pandemic is to get them into as many arms as possible. The best distribution plan for that strategy isn’t federal-government distribution or state-government distribution, but private sector distribution. The fastest and most reliable method to slow down and stop viral transmission would be to give these doses to retail pharmacies and let them inoculate whoever wants to show up to get a dose. That will protect everyone else when the COVID-19 virus stops propagating, even before some people have a chance to get inoculated.
Maybe the Biden team would be better advised to start thinking outside the box rather than reflexively pre-empting criticism by complaining about their predecessors. That’s especially true when the only reason the vaccines exist in the first place is because their predecessors took unprecedented action to ensure their production.
Update: Credit where it’s due. An EO Biden will sign today will order the CDC to start sending doses to pharmacies to improve delivery (item 3):
— Bo Erickson CBS (@BoKnowsNews) January 21, 2021
This is a big step in the right direction. Item #7 — “more equity in COVID-19 response” — sounds as though it could potentially interfere in that effort if supplies get micromanaged at the federal level. Hopefully, though, the supplies will be plentiful and accessible enough to more or less moot this committee’s work before it has an opportunity to gum up the works.