Operation Warp Speed helped drive rapid creation of new vaccines and has been a spectacular success for the Trump administration, which has otherwise monumentally mishandled the coronavirus crisis. Two vaccines developed in record time are on the cusp of emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
But Operation Warp Speed is only partially completed. As public health officials say, a vaccine is one thing and a vaccination program is another. The virus cannot be quelled — and, in fact, it is raging across America — until hundreds of millions of doses are manufactured and distributed and most people agree to take them.
That’s months away. In the meantime, much can still go awry, particularly in this delicate transition period from the Trump to Biden administrations.
President Donald Trump continues to reprise one of his early mismanagement sins: politicizing science. In the past, when the disease reality didn’t match his narrative, Trump mocked or muzzled federal scientists, dismissed their prevention recommendations or pressured regulators to approve “game-changing” therapies that didn’t work.
Now the White House, ever mindful of Trump’s “America First” mantra, is demanding the FDA move more quickly to authorize emergency use of the first two vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna. (The United Kingdom granted emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday.) There has also been a flurry of mixed signals from U.S. officials about when vaccinations will begin.
But it’s counterproductive to rush the science and risk undermining public confidence in a vaccine when a Gallup poll shows that 42% of people are unwilling to be inoculated. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn wisely placed management of the process with seasoned career federal scientists to build public trust. The review process should be allowed to play itself out and do so transparently.
Vaccine trial on Aug. 18, 2020, in Hollywood, Florida.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will issue recommendations on who should receive the initially scarce vaccine doses, enough for 20 million people (about 6% of the U.S. population). The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said this week that health care workers, and the residents and staff of elder-care facilities, should go first. That makes perfect sense; tougher decisions about who gets priority — prisoners? people with obesity? — lie ahead.
‘Address vaccine hesitancy’
Ultimately, the Trump administration is leaving allocation decisions to the states, an echo of the hands-off approach the White House took earlier this year regarding testing and personal protective equipment. That led to a calamity of bidding wars between states and the federal government over tests and necessary supplies.
When it comes to vaccinations, many states might require strong federal involvement because of the unprecedented scope of this endeavor. “States are all over the map in terms of their readiness to handle vaccine distribution and even less prepared to mount the large-scale outreach efforts required to address vaccine hesitancy,” Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman said.
Biden officials appear to be committed to working more directly with state vaccination efforts to help ensure more equitable relief.
It would be unconscionable at this crucial juncture to give fiscally strapped states responsibility for financing the additional infrastructure, communication, outreach and hiring necessary to organize dissemination of the vaccines and persuade people to accept them.
With hospitals buckling under the strain and daily COVID-19 deaths at 9/11 levels, Congress needs to set aside partisan differences in this emergency and immediately enact stimulus funding. One promising vehicle is bipartisan legislation offered by Senate moderates.
Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, predicted Wednesday that the next three months will be “the most difficult time in the public health history of the nation.” America’s leaders have one shot to deliver the country from this nightmare with a thorough and robust vaccination program leading into the spring and summer.
They have to get this right.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 vaccine injects urgency for the right vaccination distribution