Remember when Joe Biden claimed that Donald Trump left him without COVID-19 vaccines or a plan to distribute them? Even the media didn’t buy that, considering that the US averaged just under a million inoculations a day when Biden took office. In fact, Republicans have claimed all along that Biden has basically run Trump’s playbook.
Looks like the media has caught up to this fact as well. How else to explain this morning’s headline at Bloomberg on Biden’s vaccine plan?
I grabbed the headline in case editors later decide it’s a bit too accurate. The report from Josh Wingrove is equally worthy, making it clear that when it comes to vaccine strategy, there isn’t a dime’s difference between the Trump and Biden plans for acquisition. However, Wingrove isn’t entirely complimentary in this recognition:
The U.S. has injected more than a quarter of the world’s coronavirus vaccine doses so far, thanks to two presidents who share little except a strategy to corner domestic production of shots, employing a 70-year-old law that’s so far prevented exports.
From the moment the FDA authorized the first vaccines by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., the U.S. government, first under Donald Trump and then under President Joe Biden, had already arranged to buy all of the companies’ known U.S. production for months to come, assuring hundreds of millions of doses for American arms. …
The achievement is due to contracts that obligate manufacturers to fill massive U.S. government orders first, a de facto ban on vaccine exports despite Biden administration officials repeatedly saying there’s no formal prohibition. In exchange, companies get crucial aid procuring supplies. The nationalist approach taken by both Biden and Trump has been criticized by some allies and public health experts.
In fact, we bought far more doses than we’ll need, thanks to the structure of Operation Warp Speed. At the time, we had no real certainty that anyone could manufacture a safe and effective vaccine, let alone have several successful efforts. Using the wartime weapons-systems procurement model, the Trump administration bought hundreds of millions of doses from several manufacturers, sight unseen, in order to provide funding for development in case one succeeded. We ended up with three safe and effective vaccines within a year, four if we count AstraZeneca which is in use outside the US, as part of the Warp Speed project.
Given that we funded these efforts and invested our money in these doses without knowing whether they’d be usable, it’s fair that the people who paid for them get to use them first. If it hadn’t been for that massive investment up front, we might not have vaccines over which to quibble at all. But it won’t be long before our overstock can be put to other uses:
But other countries will soon benefit. The U.S. is on pace to inoculate most of its adult population by summer and is poised within months to become the biggest vaccine exporter in the world.
That was also one of Trump’s goals — to boost US drug manufacturing, even though foreign firms also took part in OWS. The lesson from Trump’s policies appear to have been belatedly learned by others, too:
As production increases, domestic manufacturers may be able to soon fulfill their U.S. contracts while also using making doses for other countries. The European Union is now drafting similar measures to curb exports to boost supply at home.
Why has the EU started singing another tune? They wanted the US to join them in broad global distribution of vaccines as a demonstration of “equity.” However, their singular bet on AstraZeneca and penny-pinching on dose prices put them behind the US with other manufacturers. As a result, their vaccination programs have stalled, and a new spike in COVID-19 cases has EU residents angry and locking down again. That has leaders worried about political accountability.
Trump understood that kind of accountability for failure and structured OWS to deal with it. Biden apparently also grasps the risks in giving doses away while Americans go unvaccinated. The only difference between the two administrations on vaccine retention, Wingrove notes, has been merely superficial. Trump’s EO on requiring full vaccination in the US before allowing exports remains in effect more than two months after Biden took office. Likewise, Trump’s use of the Defense Production Act to retain those doses hasn’t changed under Biden despite the mellower rhetoric over “equity” that Biden and his team used both before and after coming into office. The only step Biden has taken from the Trump policies was to ship some of the US stock of still-unapproved AstraZeneca doses to Canada and Mexico, and even then only as a “loan” that AstraZeneca has to replenish.
Biden deserves credit for recognizing the wisdom of this plan, and for bolstering it by getting Merck licensed to produce Johnson& Johnson’s vaccine. But the idea that Biden didn’t get a plan or a reliable supply of COVID-19 vaccines is a shabby lie, one that Bloomberg and Wingrove puncture.