Two things can be true at once. Such simple logic can get lost in today’s angry times of sum-zero politics.
It is true that Operation Warp Speed has borne fruit. The program is outgoing President Donald Trump’s attempt to quickly bring to market effective vaccines for COVID-19.
As early as January, we may see distribution of two new vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. The vaccinations will head out first to front-line health care workers and to the most at-risk people, and then hopefully by spring, to the general public.
Something else that is also true: President-elect Joe Biden is far better-suited to handle the vaccine rollouts and to make sure the maximum number of people take the vaccines.
The reason is that Biden has much more credibility on COVID-19 than Trump. The former vice president has been consistent and serious in his response, and the president has been anything but.
You can see it right there on their faces — Biden wears a mask most of the time to protect others from the viruses’ spread and Trump does not. More than 130 Secret Service agents have been infected after they were assigned to work at Trump campaign rallies where most people were unmasked.
In even the best-case scenario, vaccine distribution is likely to be a delicate, complex and controversial process. Seriousness, consistency and dependable leadership at the federal level is what is needed to make it all work — and that all begins with the White House.
For the vaccines to work, people have to take them.
But there is a small but growing number of people who distrust vaccines in general. On top of that, there are COVID skeptics — people who believe the virus does not exist or is overblown.
You will never be able to win everybody over, but Biden gives the country its best chance to reach the most number of people. He has never downplayed COVID-19, nor the suffering it has caused.
He can relate to what families have lost in the pandemic. As a young man, he lost his wife and infant daughter to a car accident. In 2015, he lost one of his sons to brain cancer.
He can be a spokesman for valuing and preserving life, keeping our loved ones healthy and close — while we can. Accordingly, he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have held small campaign events with masks required and social distancing maintained.
Trump conversely, has held numerous large rallies, including here in North Carolina, where masks were optional and distancing was nonexistent. Health officials in his wake have reported rises in COVID-19 infections after the rallies.
When Trump himself tested positive for the virus, along with his wife and many others in his camp, people thought he might take a turn toward the serious. Instead, he has spread the misinformation that he is now “immune.” Last week, a member of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force said the president had not attended a meeting in five months.
Trump, through his actions, has given aid and comfort to vaccine skeptics.
Before the Nov. 3 election, many Trump supporters had convinced themselves the virus was no big deal and was only being ginned up by Biden, Democrats and the media to defeat Trump. The virus would magically “disappear” on Nov. 4, the claim went.
These COVID skeptics took their cues from the president. He also has claimed on several occasions that the virus would just one day disappear.
That obviously has not happened. COVID-19 infections are spiking across the country and hitting daily records in North Carolina and many other places. A quarter-million Americans are now dead from the disease.
Selling the cure
Both Pfizer and Moderna announced their vaccines were around 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. The good news came like a sudden shower in a desert of bad news.
Both companies have received a boost from Operation Warp Speed. Moderna received $955 million for its clinical trials and another $1.5 billion to make and deliver 100 million doses, according to Business Insider. Pfizer did not accept money for research and development but got $1.95 billion to manufacture and distribute 100 million doses. The companies have also benefited from Warp Speed’s relaxed regulatory environment, which helped them get to the finish line faster than is typical.
Making the vaccines is just the first step. There will be thorny issues of distribution: In other words, who gets the shots first?
We can all agree front-line medical workers and those in nursing homes should be first in line.
Studies have shown Black and Hispanic Americans are most at risk for the virus’s worst effects, including death, largely because of historical disparities in healthcare. A shocking figure Biden himself cited in a debate with Trump tells the story: 1 in 1,000 Black Americans have been killed due to the virus.
Various experts have already been debating whether to steer vaccinations directly to these at-risk communities or to try to reach them by distributing to zip codes or census tracts where healthcare options are limited, according to Vox.com.
Each approach is fraught with potential obstacles — not the least of which is the wariness some African Americans have about vaccines. The skepticism is based on a history of mistreatment from the medical community, most infamously the Tuskegee Experiment in which Black men, enticed by the promise of free medical care, were infected with syphilis without their knowledge.
But Biden has in his camp a few high-profile surrogates who can help encourage vaccinations, including Harris and former President Barack Obama.
Trump by contrast, though he did marginally better with minority voters in 2020 vs. 2016, does not have strong bridges to these communities — and he has steadily burned down several through his dog-whistle racial politics.
Even now, his campaign is challenging the votes of Detroit and Philadelphia-area voters, both of which have high Black populations, in a fruitless bid to try to overturn Biden’s election victory.
In the meantime, he continues to show the pandemic is not a priority. He has tweeted about Warp Speed and the vaccine but rarely if ever tweets or talks about COVID-19’s tragic toll, or expresses empathy for its victims.
His entire focus is fighting in court an election he has lost. More importantly, he won’t assist in the transition process to a Biden Administration and there is little to no coordination with Biden on the pandemic, even as it rages.
The country that voted Trump out should be grateful he had the foresight to authorize Operation Warp Speed.
But the stakes for this virus remain incredibly high, and it’s time for the serious people, to include Joe Biden, to take it from here.
Opinion Editor Myron B. Pitts can be reached at email@example.com or 910-486-3559.
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